After the heavy snowfall Farmington had in the first three months of 2011, Farmington public works director Todd Reiten is glad for the lack of snow the past couple of months.
If not for the lack of snow, his department likely would have gone over budget in 2011. As it stands, though, things should actually come in under budget for this year.
When he plans his annual budget, Reiten looks at winter in two sections - January through March, and November through December. It's a different way of thinking about winter, he said, because most people consider "winter" as one year's event from November through March.
With that in mind, Reiten budgeted $90,000 for salt in 2011. That $90,000 buys 1,200 to 1,300 tons of salt. In the first three months of the year, the city of Farmington spent a little over $60,000 to keep the roads clean. That left about $30,000 to work with for the last two months of the year. Fortunately for Reiten, the last two months of 2011 have been pretty quiet.
Since the first snowfall road crews have been out just four times. The first snowfall was on Nov. 19, and crews only plowed a few of the main roads and sprinkled salt down. Since then, crews have only plowed and salted once, then salted on two other occasions.
"That's all we've done this year," Reiten said. "We haven't gone over in overtime or anything."
That little amount of salting has cost about $8,000 for November and December. That leaves about $22,000 in the salt budget.
Reiten suspects the actual savings will be less than $22,000, though. Gas prices have risen significantly - there's no way to know from year to year how much gas prices will fluctuate -- and that played into Reiten's budget early. He had planned for about $15,000 for fuel costs in 2011, and spent about $18,000 in the first three months of the year.
"It's been good for the budget, there's no doubt about that," Reiten said. "In other years, I probably would have gone over budget. Over the past three years, this is the least amount of salt we've used. The end of the year helped us out here, but the beginning of the year took a lot."
Figuring out how much to plan for each year may seem like a shot in the dark. And to an extent, Reiten admits, it is. He relies on past trends to set his numbers for the year-to-year snow removal budgets.
In 2010, the public works department used approximately 1,400 tons of salt. The previous year, the city used about 1,000 tons of salt. For 2011, Reiten said the city has used 1,050 tons, and most of that was in the first three months of the year.
"It varies. Some years have gone way over, some years haven't. When (city council members) do ask me to predict how much, that's a little tough to do.... They say, 'Is $90,000 enough?' and all I can say is, 'I hope so.'"
Reiten compares this year to the winter of 2006-07. November and December of 2006 saw very little snowfall, he said, but January through March made up for lost time. The first three months of 2007 dumped lots of snow on Farmington. Reiten expects the same thing to happen in 2012.
"We hardly had any snow like this, and then the next three months we really got it," he said. "I still see it coming. That's my opinion."