Demand is high and supply is low because of last year's winter, local officials said.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning Valley officials don't seem to be shaking over reports of a possible road salt shortage this winter.
Most road departments report having enough, or nearly enough, salt already on hand to get them through most of the winter. Those who don't have enough now say they have been assured that salt will be available when it's needed.
But what has shaken some departments is a sharp increase in the cost of salt over what they paid last year. Mahoning County's road department got peppered the heaviest, with an increase of nearly $16 a ton.
Reason: The Associated Press reported earlier this week that communities in the Cleveland area were having a hard time finding companies to sell them salt. Supplies are low because last year's winter started early and extended longer than normal.
"Salt is becoming a volatile commodity," said Gary Dawson, Boardman Township road superintendent, noting that prices fluctuate wildly.
A few local departments, like Austintown and Canfield townships, got shut out when they called their regular suppliers. The demand was high, the supply was low and the companies had already taken on sales of what they felt they could provide for the year, said Michael Bertilacci, Austintown Township road superintendent.
"They wouldn't even quote us a price. They just flat said they wouldn't sell to us," Bertilacci said.
The township found a supplier to sell it salt at $42 a ton, which is up from the $31 a ton it paid last year. Bertilacci said that's a slightly higher than normal increase, but not outrageous.
The township has enough salt on hand to get through most of the winter, but said there could be a problem if it's an extreme winter and a salt shortage hits.
"But if I could predict that, I'd be in Vegas making a million," he said.
Budget strain: Mahoning County Engineer Richard Marsico said the $16 per ton increase he's faced with will stretch his budget thin, especially if it's a harsh winter requiring lots of salt on the roads.
"Our budget is already tight, so this will be a strain," he said.
Last year, county road crews spread about 11,000 tons of salt on the roads. He's got nearly that much on hand now, so the county won't be affected if a shortage develops.
Columbiana and Trumbull counties also have secured their salt supplies for the winter.
Bert Dawson, Columbiana County engineer, and Chris Connelly, Trumbull County road superintendent, said they also are paying more this year, but didn't think the increases were extraordinary.
Neither saw any sign of a shortage and both said they'll have enough to get through the winter.
Buying in bulk apparently helps keep the cost down, according to spokesmen from the Ohio and Pennsylvania departments of transportation.
"We buy in such tremendous volume that the price fluctuations don't affect us very much at all," said Dick Skrinjar of the PennDOT office in Pittsburgh.
Sharon buys its road salt through the state, so it also did not see a significant increase, said finance director Michael Gasparich.