Snow removal strains budgets

Front Royal has spent most of its winter funds

By Alex Bridges

Winter storms this season have some towns worried about the rising cost of clearing roads.

Town Manager Steve Burke said Wednesday that nearly the entire $75,000 allocated in Front Royal’s current fiscal budget for snow removal and winter weather response has been spent.

“We are nearing the full expenditure of budgeted snow removal due to all the events,” Burke said.

Town Council is expected to address the funding issue Monday.

Should the town use all of the money set aside for snow removal and still need more, the funds would come from reserves, Burke said. How much the town sets aside for snow removal depends on the severity of the storms that affect Front Royal, Burke explained.

Front Royal’s Department of Environmental Services handles all town roads with the exception of the U.S. 340-522 bridges that cross the Shenandoah River. The department assigns at least one dumptruck equipped with a salt spreader to each of six zones in the town. Front Royal has an additional three to six vehicles aiding in the effort around town, Burke said, as well as other staff assigned to clear sidewalks at the municipal offices.

Unlike many towns in the region, Front Royal does not contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation to clear roads for the state.

“However, if there were a need we would definitely attempt to aid VDOT or a neighboring municipality should the need arise,” Burke said.

Front Royal has not invested in the equipment and supplies used to pre-treat the roads with a brine solution. The town may consider using brine in the future.

“This year we’ve been able to address all of the snow events,” Burke said. “But if there is an opportunity to reduce some of our expense and effort, that’s what we’ll be evaluating.”

A shortage of the salt used to treat roads has affected supplies to the area. Burke said the town’s distributor advised of a week delay in receiving more salt.

“We have a sufficient stock, we believe, to deal with this storm,” Burke said. “Following the storm, we would need to contact our distributor to replenish that stock.”

Strasburg may also use up all the money it set aside in the budget for snow removal. Town Manager Judson Rex said Wednesday that Strasburg has spent $88,000 of the $90,000 allocated for snow removal this fiscal year through Jan. 31. Strasburg spent approximately $40,000 on snow removal last fiscal year, Rex said.

As Rex explained, Strasburg uses funds it receives each year from VDOT to cover snow-removal activities on town streets. In the road maintenance fund, the town sets aside part of that money specifically for snow removal. If, in a particular year, the town uses more money for snow removal than set aside, that leaves less for other road maintenance needs, such as patching potholes or repaving.

Strasburg has 22 employees working between two, 12-hour shifts during snow storms. The town uses nine vehicles to clear and remove snow from all the streets except U.S. 11 and Va. 55, which VDOT handles. The town treated the roads with a brine solution in anticipation of the storm. Strasburg has approximately 180 tons of material to treat the roads. The town received nearly 50 tons on Friday — one of the last shipments sent by the distributor.

“We’re fortunate that we’re pretty well prepared for [today],” Rex said.

VDOT has contracts with Mount Jackson, Edinburg, Woodstock, Middletown and Berryville in the valley. The contracts are similar to those VDOT has with private plow operators who aid the state crews with winter storm response, spokesman Ken Slack said Wednesday.

Mount Jackson has received $41,000 from VDOT so far this season, Town Manager Kevin Fauber said. VDOT supplies the town with salt or other materials used on the roads.

“That’s worked out real well for us,” Fauber said.

Mount Jackson crews cover part of U.S. 11, from south of Edinburg through the town. VDOT maintains most streets in town with the exception of a few roads not in the state system. Mount Jackson then handles snow removal on those state roads.

VDOT contacts Mount Jackson and asks that crews meet at a certain time ahead of the snowfall. Later, VDOT releases the town. The state reimburses the town for the hours its crews spend on snow removal, Fauber explained. VDOT’s compensation for the side roads is less than what it pays the town for snow removal along U.S. 11, Fauber said.

In the past, Mount Jackson would put a certain amount in its budget and then receive a reimbursement from VDOT, Fauber said. The town did include in its current budget $1,500 to cover some of the cost for salt.

Woodstock uses a combination of the two approaches, said Town Manager Reid Wodicka. Woodstock clears Va. 42 and U.S. 11 in town limits under a VDOT contract, Wodicka said. For all other town streets, Woodstock allocates money each year in its overall road maintenance fund.

VDOT clears most roads in Stephens City, said Town Manager Mike Kehoe. The town has not yet paid any overtime for snow removal, though Kehoe said he expects that may change. The town allocated $3,000 in the current budget for snow removal and has spent approximately $1,000 on extra gasoline, repairs to a snow blower and for sand used on the roads, Kehoe said

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com