As winter kicks into gear, at least 2 central Maine cities say they may be forced to overspend on salt
After several snowstorms hit the state last week, Hallowell and Augusta are at risk of exceeding their salt budgets.
But the season’s otherwise mild start leaves several other Kennebec County city officials confident they won’t have to resort to excess funds to cover the materials needed to melt ice and provide traction.
Hallowell’s construction manager Thomas Goraj said the city spent about $22,000 of its $38,000 salt budget and $8,500 of its $10,000 sand budget.
“We are good with sand, but one can speculate about salt,” said Goraj. “I have a feeling it’s going to go into the red.”
Goraj said the city has used about 250 to 300 tons of salt and between 150 to 200 cubic meters of sand so far. It has between 800 and 1,000 cubic meters of sand left.
Up until last week, Goraj said this winter had been easy on equipment and resources.
“But now it’s turning into a good old Maine winter,” he said.
Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones said raising the price of salt from $51 to $71 a ton could cause the city to go over budget.
According to Jones, the city initially planned 5,500 tons with the expectation of paying $51 per ton. To date, Augusta has consumed 2,700 tons of salt, or about $192,000 of its $277,000 annual salt budget.
“If February is a bad month, we’re probably going to overspend,” Jones said.
The city uses a 75/25 salt-sand mix and has so far used about half of the 2,000 cubic yards of sand it bought for $21,000 this year.
It could be a tough season given the increased salt price and temporary staffing in departments, Jones said.
“Last week we had three big storms in a six day period and that’s because of our vacancies – we have quite a lot of people with medical issues – so we’re certainly struggling,” she said.
Waterville Public Works Director Matt Skehan said Tuesday that the town is in very good condition as far as there is enough salt and sand.
“Our sand shed is almost 2/3 full,” Skehan said in an email. “For salt, we signed a contract for 2,500 tons. We estimate that we have used around 800-1,000 tons so far. If the rest of the winter season is storm-typical, we are well prepared.”
Litchfield Town manager Kelly Weissenfels said while it’s still early in the season and anything could happen, he doesn’t expect to spend too much on the ice-melting and traction-enhancing substances.
Litchfield has spent approximately half or $69,317 of its total sand and salt budget of $126,700.
“We hope that this year we will not need any excess funding,” he said. “I think we have enough to cover it.”
According to Town Manager Debora Southiere, Manchester are also in good shape at the moment.
“We feel like we’re sitting pretty well at the moment,” she said.
Manchester spent about $33,000 out of its $60,000 budget on sand, and the city spent a little under $6,000 out of its $27,000 budget on salt.
Southiere said the city has enough resources to cover the streets if storms hit the city for about three weeks.
“And that’s not going to happen, we don’t get hit every day,” she said. “I certainly hope not.”
She said Manchester were unlikely to have to resort to excess funds and that this season has been generally quieter than average so far.
Farmingdale, on the other hand, has chosen not to use sand this year, instead focusing solely on salt.
“We have 100% salt priority,” said Road Commissioner Stephen Stratton. “We only use sand in extreme emergencies or on some steep hills when it gets icy, otherwise it’s 100% salt.”
He said the city has a readily available sand pit, but he doesn’t know exactly how many yards are stocked.
“There’s a lot of it,” he said.
As for salt, the city used about 400 tons out of the 960 tons it has.
He said Farmingdale is working with the state to buy salt, which has brought the price down from $300 a ton to $75 a ton.
Farmingdale, like some other central Maine cities, probably won’t go over budget.
“Not if we get into an extreme situation from here until the spring thaw with big storms,” he said of the budget overrun, “but I don’t see us getting into that situation at all.”
Morning Sentinel contributor Amy Calder contributed to this report.
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