Local government finds ways to manage snow plow budget
With abundant snow since the beginning of December, city and Cass County maintenance workers have been working hard to remove snow and not deplete their budgets.
Tracking snow removal budgets is not always easy, because the cost of snowplowing in a city or county is not always budgeted separately from other road work and maintenance.
Expenses can include equipment, salt, sand, fuel and wages for those doing the plowing.
“We don’t budget for snowplowing; we budget for sand and we budget for salt. Currently we are budgeting $185,000 for sand and salt,” said Cass County Engineer David Enblom. “The (cost of) plowing is our equipment. We buy equipment on a rotational basis, but it’s mostly man hours. Our employees are full-time employees, so it’s our payroll, but our other factor is our fuel. Those are our big factors.”
The city of Backus budgeted $3,000 for snowplowing in 2013. Backus Clerk/Treasurer Ann Swanson said last year most of that money was spent to remove snow from the airport, because the city contract with the Pine River Area Sanitary District (PRASD) includes snowplowing for most of the city without budgeting for it separately.
“PRASD does the city’s street maintenance, and in winter that means they do snow removal whenever it is needed. They are not paid per time they plow,” Swanson said.
It is hard to track the cost of snow removal in Pine River because much of that cost is covered under different budgets. Because the city has a full-time maintenance staff, payroll for snow removal is not included in the separate snow removal budget. Maintenance workers either do snow removal or other regular city maintenance during the week. Either way, they are paid for roughly the same hours from the same budget.
“They’re just not getting their usual jobs done in the winter time like they do catching up after summer, putting stuff away or cleaning things,” said Pine River City Clerk Wanda Mongan.
Because payroll is the main cost of snow removal, snow removal in Pine River and Cass County is no more expensive than other types of maintenance, except in the case of overtime.
Cass County has been able to keep overtime to a minimum because snow events have been happening during the week.
“This year (2013) it seems like the snow events are happening during the middle of the week, so that saves us on overtime. Last year (2012) our snow events happened on weekends, so there was a lot more overtime involved in the last snow season compared to this snow season,” Enblom said.
In Pine River, City Maintenance Manager Mike Hansen attempts to keep the overtime hours down by doing much of the snow removal himself. Hansen is paid by salary, while other city workers are paid by the hour.
Tracking the cost of salt, sand and fuel for the year can also be difficult.
“Our budget is on a yearly basis and the calendar splits winter almost in half, so even though this last year is getting over with, we get a whole new budget in January to help us fight snow,” Enblom said.
Prices for salt, sand and fuel can fluctuate greatly between January and December. Enblom said sand and salt each increased in cost by approximately 25 percent in the last two years.
“Our fuel budget for diesel fuel in our trucks is $250,000 a year. If fuel goes up 10 percent, that is $25,000. And you can kind of miss it by 10 percent one way or the other pretty easily,” Enblom said.
“In looking at our snow removal budget it appears that we will be over by approximately $3,500 from what we thought,” Mongan said. “However, the majority of the expenses were for the snowfalls received in January through April and this was for fuel overages.”
Until fuel invoices are turned in this month, the city of Pine River will not know December fuel costs, though from Dec. 2-5 the city spent $758.15 on fuel for maintenance and plowing.