A plow makes its way through a neighborhood in Brunswick after snowfall in this file photo.

BRUNSWICK — Midcoast towns are keeping a wary eye on the skies — and their wallets — after a series of pre-winter snowstorms forced them to dig into the plow, snow and sand budgets earlier than normal. 

Mike Crafts, Brunswick’s director of public works, is concerned over what this might mean for the rest of the winter.

“I’m told this is the earliest that Maine has had multiple storms in quite a while,” said Crafts. “We’re hoping it will turn mild sometime soon,” he added, although there are still at least four more months of snow coming.

Public works has done three “major plows” so far this year, spending 15 percent of its allocated $195,000 for contracted services, primarily with Harry C. Crooker & Sons, which plows six of the 20 plow routes in Brunswick. Public works is responsible for more than 140 public roads and of the nine internal plow trucks, eight have sanders.

The first storm cost more than $16,000, the second about $4,000 and the most recent storm $10,000, according to town manager John Eldridge.

“It isn’t a good start financially,” Eldridge said.


Neither Eldridge nor Crafts could confirm how much of the $200,000 winter sand and salt budget has been used because the department buys enough sand and salt to fill a vast storage area and refills it as needed.

According to the town’s budget, $45,125 is allocated for sand and $156,000 for salt.

Last year, Brunswick budgeted $39,000 for winter sand alone and spent over $53,000. There was $147,500 allocated for salt with more than $158,000 spent.

Bath has already spent almost a quarter of the money budgeted for clearing the roads in winter, according to Bath Director of Public Works Lee Leiner.

“Are we getting an early start? Absolutely,” said Leiner. “But it’s hard to say whether we’re on track until kind of it’s all said and done and we see what it took to fight winter.”

Leiner noted that winter clean-up isn’t a separate line item in the budget, so it’s difficult to sort out exactly how much overtime or vehicle maintenance to count toward the city’s overall winter clean-up costs. By his best estimate, the city has budged $250,000 for the plowing, sand and salt, and other winter activities. So far, it has spent $60,000.

“By this time last year, we hadn’t faced any major storms,” said Leiner. “We were under $5,000 at this point last year.”

Leiner said that because it’s impossible to predict how many storms will hit the Midcoast this year, it’s difficult to know whether the city is on track budget-wise or if winter clean-up will go over budget. If snow continues to pile up in Bath, Leiner expressed confidence that they’d find a way to continue plowing the roads.

“If it keeps snowing like it’s been snowing, well, I’m sure that the motoring public does not want us to stop plowing. So we’ll keep it up,” said Leiner.

Officials in Lisbon and Topsham also are leery about what the season may bring.

“Will this impact the budget? Too early to tell,” said Topsham Public Works Director Dennis Cox. “Mother Nature has her way and public works departments just have to react accordingly.”

Topsham exceeded its winter budget last year. As a result, the department budgeted for an increase its allocation for salt from $60,000 to $40,000. This year, Cox said the department has had to pay overtime to clear roads, but it’s too early to tell if the overall budget will be impacted.

Lisbon Public Works Director Tom Martin echoed the sentiments. He added the department is prepared as possible for potential storms. In Lisbon, and average is taken of the last five years worth of overtime and put into the budget as a starting point.

Snow Daze

The impacts of earlier-than-usual storms have been felt in the schools too, with three inclement weather days in Brunswick so far this year — one in September for a windstorm and two snow days in November, according to Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.

The district only budgeted for five snow days this year, he said, although there is an extra student day in the calendar that can be used as a sixth.

It’s too early to tell what the district will do if the remaining two or three days are used up, Perzanoski said, adding that would be a conversation for January or February.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and have all our snowstorms on the weekends,” he said

Regional School Unit 1 has already taken two snow days so far, but Administrative Assistant Veda Ferris said there was no need to be concerned about making up snow days yet.

“Really we’re not out of control at the moment,” said Ferris. “We’re still okay.”

At this point last year, the district had already canceled school three times. All three of those days were due to a windstorm that swept through the Midcoast at the end of October last year. That storm knocked out power in some communities for several days, and Regional School Unit 1 was without power for multiple days.

Maine School Administrative District 75 was hit hard by that windstorm. The district missed 11 days total in the 2017-18 school year, five for the storm.

Superintendent Dan Chuhta said while they don’t necessarily budget, typically five days are added at the end of the year. With snow days, the district has the towns of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Topsham and Harpswell to consider. In response to the October power outages, the district changed professional development time to school days, and early starts to full school days.

Lisbon schools only missed one day as a result of the wind and seven to snow in the previous school year. Much like MSAD 75, they have missed three days, but have five built into the school calendar.

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