Snow piles up bills for Long Island towns
This winter's onslaught of storms is emptying the snow-removal budgets of Long Island towns after only six weeks of plowing, sanding and salting this year.
Brookhaven, Smithtown and Babylon have met or exceeded their snow-removal budgets. Other towns are more than halfway through their coffers.
The options for covering those additional costs include dipping into contingency funds and reserve accounts, issuing bonds or billing taxpayers.
The Brookhaven Town Highway Department has "fully expended" its $2.6 million snow removal budget, said spokesman Frank Petrignani. The town, criticized last year for failing to adequately clear roads after a February blizzard, is already dipping into reserves. Taxpayers may have to make up the difference next year through their tax bill, officials said.
"This is Long Island; you don't know what each winter is going to bring," said Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro. "You plan for an average winter, but this winter has been anything but average."
Long Island has been hit by four significant storms, with either more than 6 inches of snow or a combination of ice and snow, since Jan. 1, according to the National Weather Service in Upton. The Island was to get between 1 and 2 inches of snow last night, according to the agency.
"Towns typically budget for snow and ice removal based upon weather forecasting and past experience," Gerry Geist, executive director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, said in an email. But in years like this one, "resources can be stretched."
The biggest costs are for salt, sand and labor, town officials said.
Smithtown spent more than the $1.35 million allocated for snow removal and contingency costs by the end of January and may look to the town board to approve bonding measures, Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen said.
"I have not depleted my whole snow budget this early since I can remember," Jorgensen said. "We've got another month and a half of winter . . . then I have November and December."
Babylon already is $72,000 over its $500,000 budget for snow removal, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said.
Islip had spent $1.1 million before last week's back-to-back snow and ice storms, nearly half of its $2.26 million budget, a town official said. The town spent only $1.9 million for all of last year's snow removal.
In Long Beach, $17,809 was left in the city's $65,000 materials budget -- covering sand and salt -- for its fiscal year that began July 1, spokesman Gordon Tepper said.
The City of Glen Cove has paid out almost 75 percent of its $200,000 snow budget for this year, said Zefy Christopoulos, the mayor's chief of staff.
Town officials are already considering options to cover the overspending.
Babylon Town can use a surplus from other highway department funds to cover the gap, Bonner said.
In Brookhaven, when the town exceeds its snow removal budget, the gap is made up the next year through a separate line on the tax bill called a "snow note," Petrignani said. That figure will be determined at the end of this winter season, Brookhaven officials said.
In North Hempstead, $379,000 of a $670,000 snow-removal budget has been expended. Another $157,000 was available in highway department contingency funds, officials said.
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said prolonged costs can be covered through highway contingency funds or funds available for minor equipment purchases.
"You find ways of economizing," she said. "You'll make up for what you didn't do this year next year. . . . We'll have to defer to the next year, to do what's necessary. It's not ideal, but we'll do what we have to do."
Hempstead Town can make transfers from the reserve fund to cover excess snow removal costs, spokesman Mike Deery said. Already, the town has spent $400,000 on wages -- 80 percent of its snow labor budget, he said.
"We'll hope for a short winter," Deery said.
Oyster Bay Town expenditures on salaries represent a higher cost than in year's past, "due in large part to the rapid succession of these storms," spokesman Brian Devine said.
The town has used about $630,000 of the 2014 snow budget, about a third of the more than $1.8 million budget.
Huntington Town has spent $1.4 million of a more than $1.8 million snow removal budget. The town can tap a snow contingency fund and then an overall highway fund balance, spokesman A.J. Carter said.
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town can dip into a surplus left from last winter.
Shelter Island, a town of 2,400 residents, has spent almost two-thirds of its budget. Its $21,000 salt and sand budget is down to $6,500, and its $35,000 overtime budget is down to $13,000, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. said.
Riverhead has spent two-thirds of its $150,000 snow-removal budget.
"If we get through February, we got it made," said George Woodson, Riverhead highway superintendent.
With Siobhan Barton