Don't count those chickens yet

The lack of white has helped counties and communities in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys save a lot of green.

The mild winter means plows have removed snow from streets only once or twice since the beginning of November 2006.

There’s only a small dent in road department salt and sand mountains. Between not having to purchase much road salt and sand and few, if any, overtime call-outs, communities and counties are saving money.

But community and county officials say a major snowstorm or freezing rain could   change all of that in a hurry. The snow that fell Monday and Tuesday is an indication that the money saved in November and December can be easily used up in January and February, they say.

“It’s way too early to count your chickens,” said Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson, who’s held that job for 38 years. “It’s not spring yet. The robins aren’t chirping. So far, it’s been the best winter that I can recollect as far as snow, and that’s helped us save a lot of money on overtime.”

The county has used a minimal amount of salt and sand this winter, he said. A typical “full-blown evening call-out” costs the county about $25,000, Dawson said. There’s been only one of those this winter season, he said.

Mahoning County usually uses 4,000 to 7,000 tons of salt-sand during the last two months of a year, said Richard Marsico, its engineer. The county used 700 tons this past November and December, he said.

Road salt-sand costs about $37 to $39 a ton.

In the county’s case, it spent about $10,000 this past November and December when it typically spends about $150,000 to $275,000 on salt-sand.

Overtime at the Mahoning County engineer’s office for the final two months of 2005 was $235,000 compared with $70,000 for this past November and December, Marsico said.

With snow removal not needed, county engineer employees are making culvert repairs.

In Youngstown, the story is similar.

The city uses more than 10,000 tons of road salt and sand during a typical winter, said Joseph Mastropietro, its street superintendent. It’s used less than 1,000 tons this winter season, he said.

“We have virtually no overtime except for an emergency situation on one weekend,” he said. “We have a salt dome that holds 4,000 tons, and it’s full.”

Instead of plowing and dropping salt and sand, city street workers are spending their days patching and cleaning city roads, Mastropietro said.

Boardman Road Superintendent Larry Wilson said the township has saved about $47,400 so far this year because of the mild weather.

Between the first call-out of road crews, Nov. 5, 2006, and the most recent call-out, Dec. 8, 2006, the township has spent $20,583 in labor and material costs.

For the previous season, the township spent $68,016 between the first call-out, Nov. 23, 2005, and the last call-out, Jan. 6, 2006.

Workers at the Trumbull County engineer’s office cleared snow from roads only twice this winter season, with today being one of those days, said Rocky Riviella, the county engineer’s controller. The job was relatively light, he said.

The county used 300 tons of salt-sand in the final two months of 2006, though it traditionally uses 1,000 to 2,000 tons during that time frame. The county saved money on materials and overtime, said county engineer John Latell. Although the amount isn’t known, it’s more than $100,000, Latell and other engineer office officials estimate.

Warren has used about 300 tons of salt-sand this winter, said Frank Tempesta, the city’s director of operations. The city typically uses about 3,500 tons during the winter from October to March, he said.

“I buy it 1,000 tons at a time, and it costs about $39 a ton,” he said. “Most of it is sitting in the storage area.”

The city has saved a lot of money on overtime, said Tempesta, who couldn’t give a specific figure.

“But it’s been a huge savings,” he said. “Some of these guys call snow ‘pennies from heaven.’ For them, it’s not been too good, but it’s been a benefit to the city.”

Hermitage, Pa., spent $5,200 this past November and December for winter call-out costs for workers, compared with $22,300 during those two months in 2005. Also, the cost of road salt was $16,900 during the last two months of 2006, compared with $44,800 in November and December 2005.

But the higher temperatures this winter won’t affect how Hermitage budgets snow removal costs. Hermitage officials generally take an average from the past five years and budgets for winter costs, City Manager Gary Hinkson said.

“The occasional light winter, we take that as a bonus,” he said.

New Castle, Pa., spent $134,000 on road salt in December 2005 and $45,161 this past December. The city didn’t provide overtime costs for its maintenance department.

Vindy staff writers Laure Cioffi and Denise Dick contributed to this report.

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