Sunday, July 27, 2014

Storms straining budgets, workers

February 06. 2014 8:51AM
By Bill O’Boyle

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WILKES-BARRE — As more snow falls, so do municipal supplies to make roads safe and the dollars in budgets needed to pay for materials and overtime for workers.

Luzerne County towns are coping with that issue as a series of minor storms — followed by Wednesday’s heavy snowfall — require manpower, equipment and anti-skid material.

Paul Keating, administrator in Kingston, said supplies of salt are down and costs for snow removal are up. He said orders for additional material are slow and overtime costs are budget-busting.

And winter is far from over.

“If we do get another big snow storm, we will have to hire a contractor to come in and remove the snow,” Keating said. “We won’t be able to plow it — there’s no place to put it.”

Mayor Tom Leighton said Wilkes-Barre is prepared, for now. He said supplies such as salt and other materials are good and there has been no strain on the city budget due to good fiscal planning.

However, if the weather continues with snow storms, small or large, the mayor said everything could change.

“If that happens, we will have to make adjustments,” he said. “We always prepare for the worst, but this has been a severe winter so far.”

Leighton said the city ordered about 1,700 tons of salt for the year and already more than 1,500 tons have been used. He said another 800 tons have been ordered and are on the way.

“But we’re only a month into the year,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be a milder winter from here on out.”

Regional Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Taluto said the numerous nuisance storms and occasional heavier snowfalls have kept crews busy plowing and treating roads more frequently this winter.

“Unfortunately, these frequent storms eat into winter budgets and we are running slightly ahead of projections,” Taluto said. “But winter is not over yet and it’s too soon to speculate on how the winter budget will sort out.”

Taluto said PennDOT works two shifts and overtime has been used to keep roads clear.

Supplies down

In Kingston, Keating said salt supplies are very low — the inventory is down to about 200 tons. He said another order for 200 tons has been delayed since Jan. 20 and another 200-ton order was placed this week. So far, Kingston has received just 50 tons.

“As a result, we’re using salt very sparingly,” Keating said. “We don’t know what the weekend will bring and we don’t know if we will receive more salt by then.”

And numerous storms result in increased overtime hours.

“It really is hurting our budget,” Keating said.

So far Kingston has been keeping up with all other collections such as garbage and recycling. He said the challenge is to keep streets open. Kingston has about 36 miles of roadway to maintain.

On Thursday, Keating drove around the mnicipality and observed a potential problem in the Westmoor section — the south side of Market Street from Wyoming Avenue to South Gates Avenue. He said vehicles were parked on both sides of the streets, but an ordinance calls for parking on the even-numbered side only.

Keating asked that residents comply and move their vehicles to allow for snow removal, which will ensure safe passage.

In Pittston, City Manager Joe Moscovitz said wear and tear on equipment is high, and when something breaks, it must be repaired or replaced. Manpower costs are up, as well, he said, noting about 70 percent of the city’s overtime allotment has been spent.

Moscovitz said the city has been waiting for delivery of materials. The city has a small storage area, so it relies more on frequent deliveries.

Dallas Township Supervisor Liz Martin said her town is caught up with the latest storm, but deliveries of materials are behind.

“Our finances are fine,” she said. “But we’re not fortune tellers. We can’t predict what will happen, but we are prepared and will do our best.”

In Plymouth Township, Supervisor Joe Yudichak, who serves as road master, said the winter has put a strain on the budget and like most other towns, he is awaiting delivery of materials.

“We’re approaching a critical point,” he said. “We have 27 miles of road, most of them are steep roads up the mountain. We use a considerable amount of material to get the roads in good shape. But so far, we’re managing.”

Prices going up

Mark Tamey, Rice Township supervisor, said the township piggybacks onto the state contract for materials. He said there have been slow deliveries and dwindling stock.

“We have three loads ordered, but we don’t know when we will get them,” he said. “If we exceed our allotment with the state contract, we’ll see a significant price increase for material.”

Tamey said the demand on supplies and manpower is not usually as high as this winter.

“Our three-man crew does an excellent job,” he said. “I just shook their hands and told them to go home. It was a long night and day. Our boys are tired.”

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