Winter of little salt made for sweet savings

More than a pinch of salt was saved this winter, thanks to the nearly snowless and not very icy seas

More than a pinch of salt was saved this winter, thanks to the nearly snowless and not very icy season just past.

From municipal highway trucks that weren’t spreading sand-salt mixtures on slippery roads to homeowners who didn’t need to toss rock salt on walkways, the mild weather has saved money.

“We had that freak storm at the end of October, and after that we really didn’t have any weather all winter,” said Carl Olsen, Schenectady’s commissioner of general services.

The season went into the record books last week with barely a third of the snow the region normally receives — and municipalities saved on the costs of plowing snow, paying overtime for night and weekend storms, and buying sand and salt.

By the numbers

89 percent

Drop in ice melt sales this winter for area Stewart’s shops.


Amount Saratoga County saved on snow and ice removal through first two months of this year.

23.1 inches

Snowfall in Albany through end of winter. Last year, there was more than 80 inches.

Homeowners saved on salt products, too. The Stewart’s convenience store chain sold only a fraction of its usual calcium chloride and rock salt, and what was on the shelves all winter is now being returned to the company’s warehouse outside Saratoga Springs.

“Our ice melt sales were actually off 89 percent, and that was because of the weather,” said Tom Mailey, Stewart’s spokesman.

The bags of ice melt products will still be good next winter, he said.

Municipalities also have next winter to worry about — but officials are thankful for what Olsen termed the “extremely abnormal” moderation this winter.

Schenectady could still encounter major winter costs next November and December that would hit the 2012 city budget, but he said right now it looks like the savings “will be a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and that’s a conservative estimate.”

He said the city has only used 25 percent of its $600,000 salt budget, but that’s only part of the savings. “We didn’t need cold patch. We saved on overtime. It enabled me to keep doing maintenance work, clearing catch basins and keep doing construction work,” Olsen said.

“This winter was good to the city in many, many ways,” he said.

Saratoga County saved nearly $200,000 on snow and ice removal through the first two months of this year. Those figures will certainly increase when March costs are totaled next week, county Public Works Commissioner Joseph C. Ritchey said. “March was quiet.”

Through Feb. 29, he said the county had saved $65,000 on anticipated overtime costs and $125,000 on anticipated salt and sand purchases.

Saratoga County budgeted $1 million for salt and sand and $280,000 for overtime for the entire year, based on historic averages.

“We budget by average,” Ritchey said. “We look back five years and then average. We can’t predict what the weather is going to be.”

Indeed, after a brutally severe 2010-11 winter that stretched municipal snow budgets to the breaking point, few people would have predicted how warm and dry this winter would be.

According to AccuWeather, 23.1 inches of snow fell in Albany through the end of winter last week; the average snowfall for the entire season is about 63 inches. Last year, by contrast, there was more than 80 inches.

But snowfall totals don’t usually tell the whole story. Municipal sanding crews also get called out for freezing rain. But even those costs were down this winter.

Saratoga County’s terrain varies from river plains in the south to sharp-featured Adirondack foothills in the north, and the northern part of the county always sees more wintery weather than the southern.

“We get called out more than people think,” Ritchey said. “But this year it was only in spots; it was never the whole county.”

Whether Saratoga County’s savings can be used for another purpose will be up to the county Board of Supervisors, he said.

Some communities are already making plans for spending their savings elsewhere in their budgets.

The Amsterdam City Council last week transferred $18,550 from the Department of Public Works’ salt budget to its blacktop budget, to cover what are expected to be higher paving costs.

The mild winter didn’t mean a savings for every municipality, though.

Montgomery County pays towns such as Root, Mohawk and Glen a flat fee per mile to plow and salt the county roads within their borders each winter. The payments total around $2 million per year.

Montgomery County Public Works Commissioner Paul H. Clayburn said the towns probably made money on those contracts this winter. Despite that, he’s pleased with the arrangement, which eliminates budgeting uncertainty for the county.

“In a bad winter, I don’t pay any more, but in a mild winter I don’t pay any less,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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