Nassau, Suffolk dig deep to pay for snow removal

A plow truck moves snow down Main Street A plow truck moves snow down Main Street in Huntington Village as a storm drops snow across Long Island, Thursday, February 13, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Nassau and Suffolk counties spent more than double their annual snow removal budgets after a series of powerful storms dumped a near-record amount of snow on Long Island this year, county records show.

Nassau budgeted $1.59 million to remove snow from area roadways and the parking lots of county buildings in 2014, while Suffolk planned for $3.35 million in snow-related expenses, including salt, equipment and overtime.

From January through March, when five major snowstorms struck Long Island, Nassau spent a total of $3.47 million on snow removal, nearly matching the $3.6 million it spent from 2011 through 2013. Suffolk spent $8.8 million on snow removal during the first three months of 2014, compared with a total of $10.6 million from 2011 to 2013.

The spending came as municipalities Islandwide struggled to pay for snow removal this winter. The onslaught of storms emptied the snow-removal budgets of many towns, and by early February, Brookhaven, Smithtown and Babylon already had met or exceeded their budgets.

Nassau County public works spokesman Mike Martino said officials developed a snow-removal budget by analyzing how much the county spent each year, on average, over the past decade.

"Based on this formula, the budgeting was accurate," Martino said. "Accordingly, this severe weather will most likely increase that average and adjustments will be seen in future budgets."

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Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson said the county hired 100 to 150 outside contractors during each heavy storm -- from individuals with a pickup truck and a plow to large fleets with salt spreaders. Suffolk based its snow budget for 2014 on the previous year's expenditures, county spokesman Justin Meters said. "During some of these storms, we were looking to bring in everyone we could," Anderson recalled.

Nassau transferred funds from other public works department accounts to cover shortfalls in the snow budget, county officials said.

Anderson said money will be transferred from other DPW accounts to fill the budget gap. He also noted that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at the start of 2014 ordered county departments to withhold 10 percent of their spending, increasing flexibility when overspending for snow removal and other services occurs.

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Nearly 64 inches of snow fell at Long Island MacArthur Airport from January through March, the second-most severe snow season on Long Island since records began being kept in 1986, said Joseph Pollina, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton. In the record-breaking 1995-1996 season, the airport got 73.5 inches of snow.

Nassau DPW workers plow 500 miles of county roads, and the parking lots of all county buildings, police precincts, parks and public pathways. Suffolk plows 534 miles of county roads, as well as county parking lots.

Nearly $1.5 million of Nassau's 2014 snow removal spending went for overtime for county snowplow operators, fleet mechanics and county employees who remove snow from sidewalks, stairs and parking lots around county-owned buildings. Among the county's other expenses were $1.7 million for about 30,000 tons of salt, and a total of $300,000 for sand, snowblowers, shovels and noncorrosive salt.

Because of the volume of snow, Nassau spent more than triple what it spent on snow-related overtime in 2013 and exceeded what it paid on OT in the previous three years combined, according to data from the county comptroller obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Suffolk County spent $882,000 on overtime for snow removal this year, according to data from the county executive's office. The figure can't be compared directly to Nassau's overtime bill because Suffolk uses private contractors to supplement its snow removal staff. The OT bill was $1 million last year, $224,000 in 2012 and $649,000 in 2011.

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Suffolk also spent more than $3 million to purchase nearly 45,000 tons of salt.

Anderson said all the contractors will be paid on time, despite the higher than expected costs.

Nassau spent $622,000 in snow-related OT in January, while Suffolk paid nearly $184,000. In February, Nassau spent $620,000 in OT, while Suffolk paid nearly $558,000. In March, Nassau paid $235,000 in OT as it cleaned up from the final storm of the season, while Suffolk spent nearly $141,000 for snow-related OT.

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