Storms take a toll on snow-removal funds

Posted: February 1, 2014

The Winchester Star

Snow plows work to clear North Pleasant Valley Road on Dec. 10. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — State and city officials are plowing through snow-removal budgets more quickly than expected this winter.

Cliff Balderson, administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Edinburg Residency — which is responsible for clearing roads in Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah and Warren counties — said this week that employees have been in snow-removal mode for 20 straight days.

“There’s not been a four-day period this year that we haven’t been doing something [related to clearing roads of snow],” he added.

The Winchester area has received 23 inches of snow this season, just short of the average winter accumulation of 24.3 inches, according to currentresults.com.

Balderson said that by Jan. 13, his residency had overspent its $3.5 million snow budget by $200,000.

And that number doesn’t include the most recent storm, which began on Jan. 21 and left some areas with more than seven inches of snow while ushering in frigid temperatures that bottomed out around zero.

“This has been an extraordinarily wintry time for us,” Balderson said.

He added that VDOT is preparing for winter storm systems predicted for Monday and next weekend.

“It’s very different because in years past, we have not needed or used all of our snow-removal budget,” Balderson said.

Tom Denney, division manager for Winchester Public Works, said on Friday that he has used about 80 percent of the $190,400 budgeted to clear snow on city streets this season.

The money, he said, comes from state highway funds.

The “guts” of the snow budget includes payroll, repairs and maintenance of snow equipment and salt purchases.

Denney said salt is expensive, at $79 per ton — which doesn’t go far.

A large salt truck in the city can hold five to six tons, which he said is easily depleted in two sweeps of Pleasant Valley Road from the Berryville Pike (Va. 7) intersection to Papermill Road.

It took 485 tons of salt to keep city streets clear from the Jan. 21 snow through Thursday, Denney said.

While he isn’t planning to go over budget, it is a possibility. “Since I’ve been here, which has been three years, we have not exceeded it yet.”

Denney and Balderson said residents need not worry about snow-clearing funds going over-budget, assuring them that operations would not suffer.

“We’re going to be out there to make sure the roads are open one way or another,” Balderson said. “We’re going to get it done — failure is not an option.”

Similarly, Denney said his crews will not stop removing snow and ice when necessary. “The roads have to be cleared. And we do the best we can.”

Berryville clerk Celeste Heath said on Friday that the town government did not have its snow-clearing numbers up to date.

VDOT pays some cities and towns, such as Winchester and Berryville, to maintain their streets.

Heath said the town does not have a line item for snow-clearing and that all costs come from the town’s street maintenance budget of $431,812.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com