With no end to winter in sight, the city of Billings has already overspent its snowplowing budget by more than $350,000.
Public Works Director Dave Mumford said Thursday that the city has exceeded its $750,000 snowplowing budget by $369,457, for a spending total of $1,119,457.
City workers have put in 15,795 hours on snow and ice operations, including plowing, de-icing, snow removal and supervision, Mumford said. As of Thursday, Billings has been hit with 55.2 inches of snow this winter, 17.3 inches above normal.
In addition to the regular plowing, the city had to deal with some serious ice ruts this winter, and in January it spent $11,000 to rent a couple of graders to aid in that effort.
The city has also spent $60,881 on contract labor this winter. Bill Kemp, superintendent of the Streets and Traffic Division of Public Works, said about half of that expense went to paying a private contractor to remove snow from the right-of-way on Main Street. Crews were still plowing elsewhere and couldn't do snow removal yet, and the heaps of snow along Main were so thick that a private contractor was needed.
The other half of the $60,881 paid for a contractor who helped with the clearing of ice ruts, Kemp said.
City policy for years has been to plow only priority 1 and 2 streets, of which there are 154 miles in the city. That is only a little more than a quarter of the 523 miles of streets in Billings. Streets that are not normally plowed might get some sand or liquid de-icer at intersections, curves, hills or other problematic spots.
Mumford said the city has used 4,271 tons of sand, up from the 2,500 tons used in a normal winter. It has also spread 123,045 gallons of de-icer, still below the 200,000 gallons normally used. Kemp said that number is down because the calcium chloride in the de-icer isn't effective at zero degrees or colder.
The city has also used 587 tons of "Ice Slicer," a brand name for a mix of naturally occurring chloride compounds that are used sparingly on problem areas. The sand is also mixed with 10 percent salt to keep the sand from freezing and clumping up.
All those materials have cost the city $247,500 this winter. Kemp said the city has also spent $60,089 on 22,011 gallons of diesel fuel for its fleet of winter vehicles. The city buys diesel at bulk prices that vary almost daily.
Of the 15,795 hours that workers have put in this winter, Mumford said, there have been 5,799 hours of overtime — 4,859 hours for Teamster employees and 940 hours for supervisors.
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Mumford also said that the personnel costs do "not include administrative hours for answering snow- and ice-related phone calls."
Kemp acknowledged fielding a lot of calls this winter, starting with the first big storms in November. The past few snowfalls haven't generated many complaints, he said.
However, he added, "The funny part is, if you can keep your sense of humor, as soon as the snow goes down, people call up and say, 'When are you going to pick up my leaves?'"
That's because the first snowstorm hit so early last year that the city hadn't finished its leaf pickup, Kemp said. Leaves still in the street this spring will be collected during the regular street-sweeping runs.
With all the sand that has been used this winter, Kemp said, six or seven street sweepers will be out every day for six to eight weeks this spring and summer. Sand picked up from the street is hauled to the landfill, where it is used for cover material.
Because spending on snowplowing is well over budget, cutbacks will have to be made in other areas of the streets and traffic budget, Mumford said. That will probably affect spending on chip-sealing and other road repair projects, he said, because the streets have to be swept and pot holes have to be filled, particularly after such a harsh winter.
"We've still got to patch the pot holes, no matter what," he said.
Yellowstone County, meanwhile, is faring well this winter, according to Del Henman, assistant director of public works.
Henman didn't have figures in front of him, but he said the county is still within the $60,000 to $70,000 a year it budgets for overtime. Crews have been trying to get as much done in regular working hours as possible, he said.
The county has five "area operators," each with a grader, spread throughout the county, plus four other graders stationed in Billings that are sent where needed and five trucks used for plowing and sanding. Henman said the county plows 1,500 miles of roads, about one third of which are paved.
A big advantage the county has over the city is that almost all its roads have wide rights-of-way, so plows can move fast and plow all the snow off to the side, while the city has to pick up and remove snow from most of the streets it plows.