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February 23, 2013

Winter costs pile up

Snow and ice budgets hit hard this season

Battered by one snowstorm after another, local communities are starting to see their annual snow and ice budgets inch closer to the red — with yet another storm on the horizon for tonight.

Reports on the severity of this weekend’s storm vary, with some projecting primarily rain followed by 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, while others predict as much as a foot of snow.

Either way, more snow means another round of salt, sand and plowing, which adds up to more costs for area communities.

Since the brutal winter of 2011, New England largely avoided any significant snowfall until two weeks ago when the historic Blizzard of 2013 dumped 2 feet of snow across the area. That was followed by another storm last weekend, and preceded by a couple of smaller storms earlier in the season.

Clearing the roads after a storm costs money, and every year municipal governments set a budget to deal with the snow when it comes. The trouble, officials say, is they can never predict what Mother Nature will bring, so it’s not unusual to see communities go over budget when it snows as much as it has this year.

Newburyport, for example, has already overspent its snow and ice budget by about $54,000. The city had set aside $170,000 this winter — and costs have already hit $224,000, according to Peter Lombardi, director of policy and administration in the mayor’s office.

While Amesbury hasn’t quite expended its $225,000 snow and ice budget, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Michael Basque said it’s getting close.

“I imagine that this weekend will put us over, and if that happens, we’ll go to the City Council and request a transfer,” Basque said.

In Salisbury, the preliminary cost estimate for the Blizzard of 2013 cleanup is $61,631, a figure that will be forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in hopes of some aid.

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