Rockville shovels money into snow removal -- Gazette.Net


Spring’s balmier temperatures may have made quick work of this winter’s unseasonably high snowfall, but they failed to melt the huge bills Rockville racked up plowing those piles and spreading salt on its roadways.

City officials are now examining their snow-removal policies, as the Public Works Department spent more than twice its budget clearing roads and parking lots.

The city will increase its salt storage capacity and pursue an agreement with the State Highway Administration to allow the city to purchase salt if it runs out, plus change the criteria it uses to determine how soon residents must clear their sidewalks after a storm.

The winter of 2013-14 cost the Public Works Department $654,207, more than double the $325,550 the city had budgeted for dealing with winter weather.

Rockville experienced 24 so-called winter events, in which crews had to respond or be prepared to respond to snow and ice. That’s the most in the six years such events have been recorded, according to a report prepared for the mayor and City Council.

The extra money will come from the city manager’s contingency fund and from money accumulated when various positions are vacant, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said Tuesday.

There’s just no way to predict what the weather is going to do, Newton said.

The city can set aside what it thinks is an acceptable amount, but “you have to be flexible,” she said.

The winter was the third-snowiest at Dulles International Airport since 1963, with 52.8 inches, including more than 19 inches in March, according to the report.

It’s very hard to budget for snow removal from year to year because of the unpredictability of weather, said Craig Simoneau, the city’s public works director.

Simoneau said his agency uses a five-year average when budgeting, to have a rough idea what to expect.

“That normalizes things a little bit,” he said.

It’s better to budget too little money and come back for more than to over-budget, he said.

This past winter, his agency went back to the city three times to ask for more money, he said.

City crews put down 6,414 tons of salt last winter, Simoneau said.

Many jurisdictions suffered salt shortages last winter, and Rockville crews hauled 200 tons from the Port of Baltimore and borrowed 160 tons from Montgomery County when their suppliers couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Staff recommends developing an agreement with the State Highway Administration to provide the city with salt in an emergency, and expanding the city’s storage facility to allow it to store 3,700 tons of salt rather than the current capacity of 2,700 tons.

Expanding the facility would cost an estimated $140,000.

The city also is looking for a new location to measure snowfall rather than the current location at Reagan National Airport.

The amount of snowfall affects how long residents have to clear sidewalks, driveways and other areas, and Simoneau said it’s clear that National doesn’t get nearly the amount of snow that Rockville does.

“If they get 4 inches, we get 8,” he said.

Simoneau said if staff can’t find a suitable location in Rockville, the city may change to measurements at Dulles, where snow totals are more in line with what Rockville receives.

The report also recommends adding sensors to equipment to allow better tracking of its progress during storms, buying a new generator for a city facility and buying several attachments for equipment it said would help with clearing snow during storms.