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Staff Photo by Grant Morris

Cesar Aguilar sits with his arm around Deb Brienen on a park bench at Greeley Park in Nashua during a warm Thursday afternoon this past winter.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Slow winter saves Nashua more than half its $1.27m snow removal budget

NASHUA – With winter snowfall down this year, so was the city’s spending, as the Street Department used less than half its snow-removal budget, according to department Superintendent Roy Sorenson.

With expenses for contractors, labor overtime, salt and sand and pagers, the city only used 47 percent of what it budgeted for snow removal for this past winter.

Excluding fuel expenses, which are budgeted for all Street Department functions throughout the year, Sorenson said, the city budgeted approximately $1.27 million for snow removal for 2011, ending up with a surplus of about $667,443.

“It’s a good savings,” he said. “This winter was unique in that not only did we not have a lot of snow, it was very mild. We didn’t have a lot of frost on the ground and we just didn’t have a lot of precipitation.”

After the heavy-hitting October storm blanketed Nashua in 12 inches of snow and downed trees, the city saw only 24 inches more the rest of the winter, Sorenson said.

“The October storm obviously devastated the city as far as trees, but we were able to get all the brush picked up before that first storm in December,” he said.

By comparison, in 2010, Nashua was hammered with 95 inches of snow, Sorenson said, proving the department never knows what they’re going to get compared to the average 55 inches.

Each year, Sorenson says he budgets line items above the average for an anticipated snowfall of 75 inches, he said.

“I don’t have pricing on salt, I don’t have pricing on sand or fuel that is set in stone, so I try to trend that out,” he said.

The prices for each go hand in hand, Sorenson said, and with fuel continually going up, salt and sand also are expected to change in pricing in the coming year.

The city also keeps a snow fund of approximately $350,000 for emergencies, he said, but even with the 95 inches of 2010, the city didn’t have to dip into that at all, he said.

“If we have a bad winter and we’re in the red, we’re able to access it,” Sorenson said. “It’s basically an emergency fund. You don’t know with the pricing. Let’s say fuel went through the roof the next month, I can guarantee salt would (go up). It’s used in a bunch of different ways.”

Some street employees liked having a break this winter, after the busy snow removal season of 2010.

“Last year was overwhelming, we couldn’t even find anywhere to put snow,” Sorenson said. “We didn’t have a chance to catch our breath.”

About two-thirds of the Street Department employees come in for a storm, he said, and some were missing the overtime this year.

With the shorter winter, however, the Street Department did have an opportunity to get more road work done and to get a foot up on vehicle maintenance, Sorenson said.

“We were busy doing just general road work, construction work,” he said. “Fixing manholes, catch basins. It enables us to catch up on some work we didn’t get done last construction season.”

The cost savings the city was afforded because of the mild winter may bolster some of that emergency snow fund, Sorenson said. The rest will likely go into the city’s general surplus, which Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and chief financial officer John Griffin control.

There has yet to be any discussion about what the snow removal surplus funds will be used for, Griffin said.

“Usually what happens is, we close the books at the end of the year and go through the process of identifying surpluses and budget appropriations not spent,” Griffin said. “They could be spent, they could be moved into surplus. Those are really the two things you can do.”

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30.

“Generally there’s surpluses,” Griffin said. “In the case of when we budget for snow, we generally budget for a typical winter. If it’s milder or less snow, you get surpluses.

“Others would be in areas where the planned spending amount, you just didn’t spend the money, and with a budget of $227 million, it’s not uncommon to have areas where the complete $227 million is not spent.”

The past two years have seen surpluses in excess of $5 million.

“It’s moving parts,” Griffin said. “Generally speaking, they could be in welfare costs, pensions, salaries where there was some attrition.”

In the next couple of weeks, the city will begin identifying where surpluses occurred for 2011 and then crafting the 2013 budget around that moving forward.

The Street Department’s snow-removal savings were “exceptional,” Griffin said.

“You just never know,” Sorenson said. “I’ll continue to budget the same way. I always anticipate there will be an increase in salt, sand and fuel. All the labor and stuff is contractual anyway and then basically you can look at the trend-line hours it takes to do a storm. … It’s not easy to figure, but you do your best and you hope for the best.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).