Snow's toll still being felt


SANDISFIELD -- The winter weather is dying out but not before leaving a brutal dent on some municipal budgets.

Even before Tuesday’s surprise burst of snow and ice, Berkshire County municipalities reported their snow and ice budgets were stretched -- and in some cases, busted.

Sandisfield, known for particularly heavy snowfall because of its elevation, has spent $260,000 -- or about $97,000 more than originally expected -- clearing and treating its roads this winter. More than three-quarters of the funds were spent on gas, sand and snow.

"If you look at the past year, this was a real anomaly for us," Sandisfield Town Administrator Lisa Blackmer said.

The prolonged winter has municipalities across the Berkshires digging into reserves after spending more money than anticipated for salt, sand, plow wipers and employee overtime. Many municipalities will use free cash funds or other reserve accounts -- while also waiting for state funds -- to pay off the debt.

While Adams is likely to avoid running over budget, neighboring North Adams expects to spend about $50,000 to $55,000 above its current allocation of $175,000, according to town officials.

Tim Lescarbeau, the commissioner of public services in North Adams, said the town has allocated $100,000 for overtime. The city could need an additional $10,000 before the end of the fiscal year, he said.

Bruce Collingwood, Pittsfield’s commissioner of public utilities, said the town had spent $1.5 million. The original budget was $650,000.

"It’s definitely one of the worst winters for road maintenance in over 10 years," Collingwood said.

Collingwood said winter rains in combination with freezing weather have resulted in water seeping underneath roads, freezing and thawing, thus causing a larger number of potholes. The city has spent about $131,000 in overtime hours for about 30 employees.

"Its been one of the hardest winters and our expenses certainly reflect that," Collingwood said.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced earlier this month $40 million would be directed to assist municipalities and the state’s Department of Transportation in performing necessary repairs on state and local roadways and facilities.

The Chapter 90 bond bill continues to be discussed by state legislators, according to Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. State legislators have proposed $300 million in fiscal 2015, but the governor has recommended $200 million.

Sandsifield has approved the re-allocation of free cash and funds from an overlay surplus account to cover its deficit.

Highway Superintendent Steve Haraysko said at one point this winter, employees went 39 days without 24 consecutive hours off. The town has spent $97,000 on salaries for five full-time employees and two part-time employees.

Great Barrington, which has 85 miles of road, didn’t fare much better. The Highway Department was allocated $215,500 for salt, sand and overtime -- but has spent $74,000 more than budgeted.

From that $74,000 deficit, $18,000 was spent on overtime to 13 employees, according to Public Works Superintendent Joe Sokul.

In New Marlborough, the snow and ice budget was $243,000 -- or about $60,000 more than expected. The department’s five employees earned about $43,000 in overtime, according to Highway Superintendent Charles Loring. He said there appeared to be a storm every weekend this winter.

In Becket, which has 60 miles of road, the town finished the year spending $250,000 -- or $60,000 more than originally anticipated.

The average employee earned about 255 to 260 hours of overtime, according to Highway Superintendent and Tree Warden Christopher Bouchard.

To reach John Sakata:
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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