Public works crews plow through their budgets

  • Trucks filled with sand queue up at the Athol DPW garage Wednesday morning. Photo by Jared Robinson

Staff Writer
Friday, February 09, 2018

If not already into deficit spending, Winter Storm Liam should be the thing that pushes local highway budgets over the edge.

Diana Cooley, administrative clerk for the Athol Department of Public Works said that she still has a few receipt slips left to calculate, but if the department has not yet reached the $250,000 budgeted for sand and salt this year, this storm will be the thing that pushes it past that point.

Snow and ice removal is the only budget item for which municipalities are allowed to go into deficit spending. According to Mass. General Law Chap. 44: Sec. 31D “Any city or town may incur liability and make expenditures in any fiscal year in excess of available appropriations for snow and ice removal” provided that the expenditures are approved by a town manager, finance committee, or selectboard.

Towns can then choose to make up the shortfall by transferring funds within the current fiscal year or carry the cost to be paid in the next fiscal year. Many towns choose to cover the cost with unallocated funds, or “free cash” at their next annual town meeting, when setting the budget for the next fiscal year.

Phillipston Highway Superintendent Richard Tenney said that he informed the Selectboard last week that his department has surpassed the $50,000 budgeted amount. Tenney blames the need to go into deficit spending on the number of storms that have lasted across full days, forcing his department to spend extra hours working to keep the roads clear, and extra chemicals needed on the roadways.

He also said the type of snow that has fallen, has mostly been “wet and sloppy,” instead of the light and fluffy kind that can be easily pushed aside.

On top of this, the warmer days and cooler nights has meant the snow that has been pushed off to the side melts across the roads during the day and re-freezes at night, causing further dangerous conditions that need to be treated.

In Petersham, it’s a similar story. Highway Superintendent Greg Waid said he has about 10 percent of the budgeted $55,000 remaining, and is fairly confident that Liam will be the storm to push the town past that cap.

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