February 26, 2013

Snow weighs heavily on municipal budgets

Four Maine counties could qualify for federal disaster aid. Meanwhile, another mess of heavy, wet snow is on the way.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

With some communities' budgets for snow removal nearly depleted, officials in cities and towns in southern Maine are hoping to qualify for federal disaster funds.

click image to enlarge

Snow is dumped in a lot near Preble Street during the clean-up from the record-setting blizzard in Portland on Feb. 10.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

In the meantime, there's plenty of punch left to winter, including a storm that's expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon.

"It ain't over yet," said Guy Casavant, public works director in Biddeford.

Before last weekend's storm, Biddeford had spent $160,000 in overtime pay for snow removal -- 70 percent above its projected overtime pay for this point in the winter.

Besides payroll, snow removal expenses include salt, sand, fuel and maintenance.

In Westbrook, spending for snow removal may exceed the budgeted amount for the first time since 2005.

Tom Eldridge, the city's director of public services, said this winter has been snowier than usual, some of the storms have been long-lasting, and snow has come on weekends, causing the city to spend more money on overtime than usual.

Before last weekend, Portland had spent $900,000 of its $1.1 million budget for snow removal in 2012-13.

It spent $440,000 on one storm alone, the blizzard of Feb. 8-9, which dropped a record 31.9 inches on the city.

Portland officials are doing their best to limit overtime spending, but crews have to clear streets quickly so emergency vehicles can pass, said Mike Bobinsky, the city's director of public services.

"This is about public safety," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now verifying cost estimates submitted by cities and towns in four Maine counties for the cleanup from this month's blizzard, said Rob McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

If the expenditures are high enough, Gov. Paul LePage will have the option to ask President Obama to declare the counties -- including York and Cumberland -- a federal disaster area.

That would allow the federal government to reimburse all of the municipalities in each county for as much as 75 percent of the expenses they incurred during the two days of the blizzard, he said.

So far this winter, Portland has received 81.6 inches of snow, according the National Weather Service in Gray. That's almost double the 44.7 inches that the city normally receives by Feb. 25.

Last year, Portland got just 43.9 inches of snow for the entire winter. This year, the city got 46.6 inches of snow in just one month -- February.

And it looks like there could be more snow before February is over.

For Wednesday afternoon and Thursday -- the last two days of the month -- the weather service has issued a winter storm watch for interior sections of York and Cumberland counties.

The forecast calls for 8 to 12 inches of heavy, wet snow for communities away from the coast, and a mixture of snow, sleet and rain along the coast.


Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:



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