As cautious optimism begins to fill the air that warmer weather is on the horizon, one group of Putnam residents–highway superintendents and their workers–is especially holding out hope that winter is in the rearview mirror.
With a harsh winter that has pounded Putnam County with aggravating snow and ice in freezing conditions, snow removal budgets have become noticeably lighter with several town highway departments right on the brink of going over their budgets.
“The next storm will break us,” Kent Highway Superintendent Richard Othmer said. “But we have nothing in the bank for November and December 2015.”
Putnam County Highway and Facilities Commissioner Fred Pena said the county department has already surpassed its overtime budget line for this year and have significantly depleted its salt supply. The reason for that is salt went up 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, calculating to roughly $76 per ton.
Othmer, as noted above, said Kent is nearing its budget line. The Patterson highway department hasn’t gone over budget yet, but noted there are still a couple months at the end of the year to worry about. In an email, Southeast Supervisor Tony Hay stated the town has expended 60 percent of its budget for snow removal labor and 60 percent of its salt budget.
Carmel Highway Superintendent Michael Simone said his department is over budget for overtime costs, but not material expenses just yet. Simone said he would request the Carmel town board allow him to use some funds that have been put aside the last couple of years to make up for the money already lost.
In Putnam Valley, highway superintendent Larry Cobb said the sand and salt budget is “definitely” going to be over. He said labor could also be over budget because many of the storms hit on Sundays and holidays, which result in high overtime costs paid to town employees. (Every town superintendent interviewed voiced a similar reasoning for the increased overtime.)
“When mother nature strikes, it strikes,” Cobb, who noted two ice storms wiped out his salt shed, said. “We have to do what we have to do.”
More snow actually fell last year, but this year has caused more complications. That’s the result of snowstorms lasting several hours longer, even if the snow accumulated is less.
“I’d rather have a 2-foot storm in five or six hours and have it go away than a 36-hour storm of four inches,” Other said. “You actually use more materials on a small storm than on a deep storm because a deep storm it comes fast, it goes and it’s gone.”
Cobb even said last year the snow removal budget was in good shape because how quickly the storms passed over the region, regardless of total snowfall.
And another problem Othmer and other highway superintendents have faced is the shortage of salt this year in New York State. Deliveries are slow to reach departments and different municipalities have continued to borrow from each other to keep up with the demand, Othmer said.
Othmer, Pena, Simone, and Patterson Superintendent Russell Goff all went up to Albany recently to rally that more salt supply trickle down to the county and town level.
Simone said it’s been uncomfortable just getting enough salt supply to keep departments going, noting this is a struggle felt throughout Putnam, Westchester, and Dutchess counties.
And as weather begins to warm up– temperatures are set to be in the 40s every day this week–the problems for highway departments will continue to exist.
Pena said, “While the snow is almost behind us, the effects on the road and the infrastructure is going to be tremendous.”
With a large collection of potholes scattered throughout the county, Pena said it’s important a message is sent to the state government and Governor Andrew Cuomo that infrastructure dollars need to be distributed throughout the entire state.
“That’s not really happening this year,” Pena said. “The way Governor Cuomo is speaking, he doesn’t seem to understand the importance of that message.”