Snow removal budgets beefed up as towns prepare for winter
by Scott Eidler
Long Island town and city governments, battered by last winter’s snow removal costs, are budgeting more money for sand, salt, labor and equipment to avoid coming up short again next year.
Even under pressure to stick to the state’s tax levy cap and cut costs, 10 of the 15 towns and cities are proposing spending a combined $2.3 million more to keep roads clear.
Brookhaven’s preliminary 2015 budget includes spending about $1 million more than this year — the largest hike on Long Island — to bring the town’s total snow removal budget to $3.67 million. Brookhaven officials were lambasted for their failure to quickly or adequately respond to a February 2013 blizzard that dumped more than 30 inches of snow.
Four storms dropped more than 6 feet of snow on Long Island this year, forcing municipalities to dip into reserves or other funding sources to pay staff overtime, rent heavy equipment, and replenish salt and sand supplies.
“It’s very tough to budget for disaster and snowstorms,” North Hempstead finance director Aline Khatchadourian said. “You want to have the infrastructure in place, make sure you handle it, but you don’t want to overtax the residents.”
Even with the $1 million increase, Brookhaven’s 2015 snow removal budget “does not represent the ability to handle another record-breaking year,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said. The town has spent more than $10 million in snow removal costs so far this year, he said, with the potential for winter storms still ahead in November and December.
Early forecasts indicate local governments may need the extra money in their budgets.
John Dlugoenski, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said the State College, Pennsylvania-based forecasting service is predicting “slightly above normal for snowfall on Long Island,” this winter, with “the potential for it to be well above normal, depending on how many big storms there are.”
Hempstead Town approved an $800,000 cumulative increase with $900,000 more for road salt, but $100,000 less for snow-removal overtime costs.
North Hempstead Town is proposing an overall budget with reduced spending, but increased the snow removal budget by more than 8 percent, to $726,058 from $670,000. Nearly all of the hike is for anticipated overtime costs.
The Town of Babylon has proposed a $100,000 increase of “program operations” that cover supplies, such as road salt, officials said.
“We can’t run into something in the middle of the winter where we run out of salt, and we can’t tell our residents we ran out of funding and can’t salt the roads,” said Thomas Stay, Babylon commissioner of public works.
Shelter Island, Long Island’s smallest town, proposed increasing its snow removal budget to $90,000 from $56,000. The town spent about $117,000 on snow removal this year, the bulk of it for sand and salt.
Shelter Island until about five years ago was able to mine and store its own sand, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr., said. With sand mines depleted, the town has to truck it in, paying a $125 ferry fee for each truckload, he said.
Huntington, Smithtown and Riverhead, as well as the city of Glen Cove, are not increasing their snow removal budgets.
Huntington will use a reserve fund if additional snow removal money is needed next year, spokesman A.J. Carter said in an email. “There was a policy decision to hold spending to this year’s levels across the board,” he said.
Southampton does not set a budget specifically for snow removal, but officials proposed increasing the town highway budget for contracts, overtime and salaries for next year.
East Hampton’s proposed 2015 budget calls for a $34,000 increase in its snow-removal budget. Southold’s preliminary budget increases snow removal spending by about $20,500. Oyster Bay is planning to allocate an additional $40,127.
The City of Long Beach approved an additional $10,000 for sand and salt purchases in its 2014-15 budget, city spokesman Gordon Tepper said.
The Town of Islip preliminary budget increases its snow removal spending by $155,000, to $2.42 million from $2.26 million. The town has already exceeded that budget by $1.1 million, said Public Works Commissioner Tom Owens.
Islip early this year needed to rent larger pieces of equipment, such as payloaders and road graders, because the smaller equipment it usually rents could not push the nearly 3 feet of snow from intersections and municipal lots.
Owens said he is “aggressively” signing up vendors with heavier equipment to prepare for any heavy snowfall this winter. The town also has purchased 10 snow plows for $300,000 that are expected to arrive in November.
“Whatever I’ve got to throw at a snowstorm to get it done is what I’m going to do,” he said.