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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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New Canaan running low on snow budget

Published 12:00 pm, Saturday, February 22, 2014

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  • Contract workers remove snow from the corner of Park and Pine streets in New Canaan Friday morning, Feb. 14, 2014. Department of Public Works Director Michael Pastore said it costs as much as $20,000 each time the town hires a company to haul snow out of downtown. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Contract workers remove snow from the corner of Park and Pine streets in New Canaan Friday morning, Feb. 14, 2014. Department of Public Works Director Michael Pastore said it costs as much as $20,000 each time the town hires a company to haul snow out of downtown. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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This winter has been a rough one for the East Coast. With more than a dozen snowstorms, it has been particularly difficult for Connecticut municipalities to afford snow supplies and overtime pay for snow removal crews.

The situation is so critical that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency last week to ask the federal government for help with the road salt shortage.

In New Canaan, the Department of Public Works is already running a deficit on overtime pay and is about to run out of money to buy salt, Director Michael Pastore said.

The department's overtime account has been over budget for about three weeks, he said.

During the last two weeks in December, several workers accrued about 40 to 60 overtime hours each due to snowstorms that coincided with holidays and night work.

"That was just taking on a toll on them," Pastore said. "They were getting really tired."

Pastore said his department has had to buy so much sand and salt that it's close to exceeding its $300,000 road maintenance budget. He said Tuesday that there's about $10,000 left, which he was hoping to use to fill pot holes in the spring as well.

Pastore said New Canaan has had 18 storms and about 67 inches of snow so far.

"I don't know if it's the worst snow in 20 years, but it's certainly one of heaviest accumulations," he said. "Another thing that's making it so hard is the cold, which freezes everything."

As for road salt, the town has enough for only two or three more storms, according to Pastore. He said the department was working to take money from other expenses to purchase more supplies, but he is expecting to request a special appropriation at some point this winter.

Pastore said it costs about $125,000 to fill the department's shed with salt. Since there still are four more weeks of winter, the shed likely will be empty very soon, he said. The director said salt would be a priority once the new fiscal year starts.

"The first thing we'll do in July is to get salt," Pastore said.

Even if New Canaan has the money to buy road salt, it hasn't been easy to get it due to a coast-wide shortage. Pastore said the department has been hauling its own salt from a supplier in New Haven.

Thanks to the state of emergency, however, New Canaan and other towns eventually might be reimbursed for some of these weather-related costs.

The governor also announced Feb. 14 a relief package prepared by the state Department of Transportation for all towns facing road salt shortages after so many snow and ice storms.

"These consecutive, long-duration events have challenged the resources of towns throughout Connecticut, in terms of stretched budgets and inventory of salt to treat road systems," Malloy said in a news release. "Those challenges have been compounded further by regional and national shortages of salt due to unprecedented demand by both public and private sector entities responding to this year's storm season."

Pastore noted the needs of the department might change radically depending on how many more storms New Canaan still will see this season.

"The most difficult thing is `when will it stop?'" Pastore said. "If it stops now, I can tell you where we are, but if we got another month of this, it's going to be really bad."

Another expense that's driving up costs is the need to hire outside contractors to haul snow from downtown, which costs as much as $20,000, according to Pastore. He said the department had to do that twice this year. The snow usually is brought to the landfill or to Waveny Park.

"We only do that when it gets to the point that people can't get to the stores," Pastore said.

Pastore said the businesses in town "have done a great job" clearing their sidewalks, which has allowed town workers to focus on other areas.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson