As Mother Nature gathers steam for another string of winter storms about to hit the state, public works officials are starting to cringe when they look at the sky.
The extraordinary amount of snow and ice that's fallen on city streets so far this winter season has already eaten through most cities' road maintenance budgets, and public works departments across the state are scrambling to have enough people, salt and money to keep the streets clear.
Some cities like Riverton and South Jordan are even starting to ration their salt use so they can keep the roads clear but avoid running out of the valuable mineral.
"We're getting a little bit tired of it," said Riverton's public works operations supervisor Brent Bennett. "We're starting to run short on salt because we've used so much. We usually have a pretty good stockpile, but ... I'm dang near out. I have plenty of it ordered, but because of poor road conditions and the weather, it's not coming into our yard."
With the snow season only half over, many cities have already run through their budgets for snow removal and salt, and will have to find money elsewhere to keep the roads clear for the rest of the season.
By the end of January, Utah's Department of Transportation anticipates it will have spent $16 million out of its $18 million budget for snow removal this fiscal year, said UDOT deputy director Carlos Braceras. The agency will likely need to ask the Legislature for supplemental funding to cover costs associated with the snow removal, Braceras said, but UDOT hasn't yet formally requested the extra funding."In the Salt Lake/Park City areas alone, we usually spend about $1.5 million a year on salt," said Nile Easton, UDOT spokesman. "This year, we have already spent $2.5 million before (Tuesday) night's storm."
Salt Lake County
Making sure roads aren't icy has also pushed Salt Lake City well over its budget for salt, said Greg Davis, finance director for the city's Department of Public Services.
The department budgeted $216,000 for salt to melt ice and snow on Salt Lake City's 1,773 miles of road and 1.6 million square feet of sidewalk this winter. By the end of January, the city will have exceeded that total by about $150,000, Davis said.
The total cost increase to keep city roads clear so far this winter is unknown, he said. Personnel costs still have to be factored in, as well the additional fuel and maintenance to keep snowplows running.
Using the barometer of salt use, though, the city is 69 percent over budget for snow removal.
Davis said the public services department likely won't be seeking additional funds from the City Council to cover the increase, at least not right away.
"We feel there are possibly some other areas we can adjust," he said. If wet weather continues into the spring, the city could save some money on water, Davis said.
Riverton, South Jordan and West Jordan have all exhausted their snow-removal budgets. West Jordan's Public Works Department recently asked the city for $57,000 more to pay for snow removal, $15,000 more to pay for damages to street lights from weather-related traffic accidents and $4,000 more to pay for snow removal from the City Hall.
So far this season, Salt Lake County, which clears unincorporated county streets and contracts with several cities, like Taylorsville and Herriman, for snow removal has spent $300,000 more than last year.
South Jordan has dipped into its emergency contingency fund to pay for its increased snow-removal costs, but public works employees say those funds are limited in case other emergency situations arise like spring flooding.
In January alone, Murray used 4,500 tons of salt, and its employees have worked more than 3,400 hours of overtime for snow removal, said Murray city public services coordinator Anne VonWeller.
"Policymakers have been sympathetic," VonWeller said. "Our instruction is to deal with (the snow) and we'll make it up somewhere."
Midvale public works Superintendent Doug Ervin said he thinks this winter is a return to normalcy after years of drought."People have forgotten what winter is like," he said. "To me it's a normal winter and we're doing fine."
Geography makes for an interesting scenario in southern Davis County, where the storms seem to get caught in the cove-shaped mountain terrain east of Bountiful.
The clouds linger there, says Woods Cross public works director Scott Anderson, and drop snow well after storms subside in Salt Lake County to the south.
Anderson's salt budget was $10,000 for this fiscal year. He finished spending that budget Wednesday.
"We haven't seen a warm-up," Anderson said. "We got our first snowstorm Dec. 1. That snow is probably on the ground."Though he will be over budget on salt as soon as the next storm hits, Anderson said city managers tell public works directors, "It's not your business to worry about the budget. It's your business to keep the roads open."
In Park City, each storm brings up to $200,000 in snow-removal costs, said Park City Operations Manager Pace Erickson. The city, which sometimes sees snowdrifts up to 5 feet high, has to bring in front-end loader trucks to clear its snow. Unlike most Utah cities, snowplows can't simply push snow off to the side of streets, Erickson said. The snow has to be hauled out of town.So far, Park City's snow removal has cost about twice as much as normal, Erickson said.
Orem won't have total costs for snow removal in January until the first few days of February, but they already know they're over budget for salt.
Each year they're allocated $60,000 for salt, and after the wintery blasts of January, they're nearly $10,000 over, said Stan Orme, street section manager for Orem city.
The budget for overtime hours is still OK, as many of the storms have occurred during regular business hours, Orme said.
Provo's in the same boat $10,000 over their original salt budget of $35,000.
"We've actually had more calls out this winter, more storms than we've had the last two (years)," said Rob Nesbit, street maintenance manager for Provo. "On the average we're higher this year, and we still have another good two months left."
"We had a budget of about $12,000 dollars for the month of January, and our estimation looks to be about 20 to 30 percent over that," said Gretchen Gordon, the executive assistant of Cedar Hills' Public Works Department "Right now we are actually all out of salt waiting for some more to arrive."
Pleasant Grove is about right on their budget of 400 tons of salt. Public Works director Dennis Carter says that they purchase the salt for about $30 a ton, putting them at approximately $12,000 spent this month.
Alpine only spent $2,200 in December, but spent about double that, $5,000, in the past month.Eagle Mountain has already overspent their budget by $2,000, including equipment, salaries and materials, said Linda Peterson, Eagle Mountain spokeswoman. The city budgeted $55,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year, a 35 percent increase over last year's budget for snow removal, Peterson said.
Contributing: Amy Choate-Nielson, Nicole Warburton, Joe Dougherty, Sara Israelsen, Jared Page, Rebecca Palmer, Ethan Thomas and Catherine Smith