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A low-snow winter results in savings for area towns

ADDISON COUNTY — When it comes to the economy, Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away.
The almost snow-free winter of 2015-2016 has cost area ski resorts thousands of dollars in lost revenues, but has saved the state of Vermont and municipal public works departments an avalanche of money that would have been spent on overtime, sand and salt expenses during an average winter.
“We spent a lot less money this year on winter maintenance,” said David Blackmore, manager of the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s District 5, which includes Addison County. “It was one of those unusual years.”
How unusual?
Records show that VTrans spread 122,430 tons of salt and 7,356 cubic yards of sand on the state’s roads between July 1, 2014, and March 31, 2015, and paid out $49,872 in overtime wages to winter maintenance workers during that same period, according to Wayne Gammell, deputy director of maintenance and operations for the Agency of Transportation.
By comparison, Gammell said VTrans spread 61,614 tons of salt and 2,477 cubic yards of sand during the period of July 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016. And the state paid only $28,254 in overtime for winter maintenance chores during that timeframe, Gammell noted.
“A winter like this kind of hurts our employees (due to a lack of overtime), but it allows us to do activities that we haven’t been able to do,” Gammell said, referring to road patching, guardrail replacement and picking up litter. Those are chores that often have to wait until late spring or summer due to extended winter work, Gammell noted.
“The last three winters have really been record winters” that have substantially depleted the VTrans salt and sand piles, Gammell said.
This latest, mild winter should help VTrans beef up its sand and salt stockpiles and reduce the amount to be purchased this year, officials said.
Addison County officials echoed the state’s good news on the winter budget front.
Middlebury has spent a combined total of $16,000 less on sand and salt this year as a result of the scarcity of snow, according to Dan Werner, the town’s director of operations. Meanwhile, winter-related overtime expenses are down $28,000 this fiscal year compared to last, Werner noted, and $11,000 less has been spent on fuel for winter maintenance vehicles.
Middlebury purchases sand and salt in December, to make sure enough is on hand to meet early demand. This year’s infrequent use of salt and sand will translate into beefed up reserves for next year, according to Werner.
Meanwhile, Vergennes kicked off the winter with a sand and salt budget of $45,000, of which $25,562 has been spent, according to city Manager Mel Hawley. And a nice chunk of that $25,562 in sand and salt is still sitting in the city shed.
“The savings will show up in next year’s budget because we won’t have to buy as much,” Hawley said.
Vergennes budgeted $25,000 for overtime wages this fiscal year, and 90 percent of that sum usually gets spent on winter maintenance, according to Hawley. At this point, only $8,083 of that $25,000 has been spent, Hawley said.
And there’s more good news: Vergennes has only spent $550 out of the $5,000 it budgeted for winter rental equipment. Also, city vehicles have consumed only $4,587 of the $15,000 fuel budget.
“Part of that is (lower) gas prices,” Hawley acknowledged. But a big part of it is that city snowplows haven’t spent much time on the roads this winter.
Unexpended winter maintenance funds will be added to the city’s fund balance, which is used to offset the municipal tax rate, according to Hawley.
In Bristol, $20,000 has been spent out of a total sand budget of $32,000, according to Town Administrator Therese Kirby. The community still has $10,000 left in its salt budget. And there’s still plenty of salt and sand in the town shed, officials said.
At the same time, Bristol has spent only $10,000 of its overtime allowance of $22,500 for this fiscal year, Kirby noted.
As is the case in Vergennes, unspent winter maintenance funds in Bristol will be used to offset property taxes.
“We have one of the best road crews in the state,” Kirby said, giving a special shout-out to road Foreman Peter Bouvier. “It’s nice to give them a little bit of a break after last winter.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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