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WINTER 2014: Costs of freezing weather burns up wallets

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Overtime, salt getting hit hard

By Lisa King

There’s one thing that hasn’t been frozen the by the near-Arctic temperatures that settled into Shelby County this winter: the cost of dealing with the weather.

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From ruptured water pipes to trying to make the roads safer and passable, estimates on the cost of this winter are substantial. Principal among that is the cost of overtime pay for work crews, with the county road department spending more on overtime in one month than it has in two years total.

Some municipalities said the overtime impact for workers hasn’t been that great, but the Shelbyville Municipal Water Company isn’t among them.

Crews were back at work on pipes Thursday on Midland Trail, addressing an issue that sprang out of a water main break in front of the Shelby County Fairgrounds Jan. 7, General Manager Tom Doyle said.

“Yesterday, we found that a valve had a crack,” he said.

And he said he didn’t know how long it was going to take to repair that problem, which means there may be even more overtime to an already significant amount Doyle’s employees have worked this month.

“We don’t know yet what all this is going to cost,” he said. “We have spent quite a lot on overtime. This winter, a lot of our customers have had issues after hours. We normally charge a fee for making after hours calls, but due to extreme weather conditions, we have waived that fee.”

 

Road crews busy

County Road Supervisor Carl Henry said that the biggest expense for his department in the wintertime is salt and overtime.

He said he has used 1,500 tons of salt on icy roads. At a price of $61 per ton, that’s a cost of $91,500 – and that’s not counting what may be used before the winter ends.

“We’ve used as much salt already as we usually use all year,” he said.

Like Doyle, Henry said he did not have exact figures on overtime expenditures, but roughly, he estimates that expense to be at least doubled.

“We’ve used as much overtime this year as we’ve used for the past two years put together,” he said. “Like Saturday, most people don’t realize it, but we had drifts out there [county roads] that were unreal. We worked all day Saturday, from three o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night out on Narrow Gage and Mulberry [Pike]. It was so thick, trucks couldn’t get through it.”

Henry chuckled and said that it was a good thing that he had previously stocked up on salt, because some other departments are getting low.

“I’m not hurting on salt. The city and the state is low, but we’re all right,” he said.

In contrast, the city has not incurred as much expense as the county from trying to keep roadways clear of ice and snow, with only 80 miles of roadways compared to 400 miles of county roads and 400 miles of state roadways in Shelby.

"I haven't really put pencil to paper on it,” said Jennifer Herrell, city engineer/public works director for the city of Shelbyville. “Last year we didn't really spend as much on salt and overtime because it was such a mild year, so it's kind of evening out."

Herrell said she estimates that overtime pay won’t be that substantial.

"It really hasn't been too bad, because a lot of the incidents have come during the day and during the week,” she said. “I know the last one was on Saturday, and that counted on overtime, but really it hasn't been too bad. Of course we've had to order more salt, but we haven't met our quota that we purchased from our supplier so I'm not too worried. And the salt bin was full from last year because we didn't really use any."

The frigid winter weather hasn’t impacted Simpsonville’s coffers very much either, City Administrator David Eaton said.

The city had to pay overtime for extra street treatments for its 15 miles of roadways and had to purchase an additional load of salt.

“We’ve probably had to get one extra load of salt [from Morton’s Salt],” he said. “We had a lot left over from last year, so it really hasn’t hit us that hard.”

Similarly, Eaton said he builds overtime into the budget.

“We haven’t even hit what was budgeted so far for overtime,” he said.

He also said that city hall has maintained regular hours, and the city’s garbage service had one small disruption.

“Garbage was delayed a bit one Tuesday, but most was picked up,” he said.

“I feel like we’ve been there for people.”

 

State hit hard

The situation with state roads in Shelby County has been even more expensive for the Kentucky State Transportation Cabinet than for the county road department, officials said.

Andrea Clifford, spokesperson for the Cabinet’s District 5, said that the state maintenance crew in Shelby County has used 4,634 tons of salt this winter. At $56.70 per ton, that’s a total of $262,747. State crews have also used 29,800 gallons of calcium chloride.

“We spray this onto the sodium chloride because calcium chloride is more effective below twenty-three degrees,” she said.

Clifford said that liquid calcium chloride costs about 71 cents per gallon, bringing the total cost of that material this winter to $21,158 in Shelby County.

Clifford said that for expenses related to snow removal this winter, the state has spent $516,961. That includes labor but not overtime.

Chuck Wolf, public information office for the Cabinet, said that statewide, the cost this winter has been four times greater than for the same period the year before.

He said that statewide, overtime costs associated with snow and ice were $694,970 as of Dec. 31, compared to $157,396 for the same time period the winter before.

 

More coming?

What’s more, Kentucky, including Shelby, could be in for another round of winter weather within just a few days, officials said.

Eaton said he had not heard early forecasts for Tuesday that 12 to 15 inches of snow could be dumped on Shelby County.

"I better get on my computer and fire that up," he said.

Henry echoed that worry.

“I have been watching that [weather forecasts] like a hawk, and we are going to get something Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said. “I can’t say right now, whether it’s going to be sleet or snow, but whatever comes, we are going to be ready for it.”