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Long Island

Municipalities spend most of the $22M allotted for snow removal

A Brookhaven Town truck plows snow along Railroad

A Brookhaven Town truck plows snow along Railroad Avenue in Ronkonkoma during a March snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow. Credit: James Carbone

Most Long Island towns made it out of the winter with money to spare in their 2018 snow removal budgets, despite a pack of nor’easters in March that dumped record-setting snow on the region.

The 13 towns and two cities have $2.6 million left to deal with any end-of-year snowstorms — an average of $173,000 per municipality. Together they have spent $19.5 million of the $22.1 million budgeted for snow removal, according to a Newsday survey.

That leftover money for plowing, road salt and overtime remains despite the more-than-twice-average snowfall during winter that closed schools, left thousands without power and knotted the Island’s roads and railways. From December through April, 65.9 inches fell at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, compared to the usual 24.3 inches. Nearly half of the total came in March, according to data from the National Weather Service.

“March threw a big curveball,” said Bill Goodman, a National Weather Service forecaster in Upton. “Winter didn’t want to quit.”

Municipalities define their snow budgets differently. Some may account only for overtime and materials’ costs, while others may also include money for outside contractors, equipment rentals and other expenses.

Highway superintendents and other town officials attributed their intact snow budgets to storms falling on weekdays and warm spells, which meant less overtime for laborers and not as much ice to scrape off roads.

But five municipalities have already plowed through their snow removal budgets, including Huntington and Smithtown, where officials placed some of the blame for their six-figure cost overruns on prior town administrations.

Endless Winter

Though nearly two weeks of freezing temperatures around New Year’s Day and a blizzard in January helped usher in the winter season, a virtually snow-free February had some hoping for an early spring.

“We thought we were going to skate by,” said Babylon Town Public Works Commissioner Tom Stay. “Then we had those nor’easters in March.”

MacArthur Airport registered 31.9 inches of snowfall in March, more than seven times the average for the month and 8.6 inches more than the snowiest March on record, according to National Weather Service statistics. It was all that town highway crews could do to keep up.

“The March 7 storm felled more than 250 town trees and snapped the limbs off hundreds of others,” said Huntington Highway Superintendent Kevin S. Orelli. “This was reminiscent of superstorm Sandy.”

Brookhaven spent $2 million in March on snow removal, according to Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro.

The town has more than doubled its snow budget in the past four years to $5.5 million. It has spent roughly all of that already, Losquadro said.

“If March hadn’t happened, we would have had a nice surplus in that account,” he said.

Stretched Budgets

Nine towns made it to spring with some money remaining in their snow budgets, including four with surpluses of more than $500,000: Babylon, Islip, Hempstead and North Hempstead.

The timing of the storms helped.

“We did fairly well, fortunately, because a lot of the storms were in normal business hours,” said Southold Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando. The town still has $199,000 left in its $425,000 snow budget.

“The beauty of any kind of March storm is that the long-term cleanup is not there because the sun’s out longer, it tends to be warmer the day after,” said Stay, of Babylon.

Babylon has about $800,000 left in its $1.6 million snow budget.

Still, March’s storms were too much for the snow budgets of Huntington, Smithtown, East Hampton, Long Beach and Glen Cove, all of which are already in the red.

Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said the town has spent $2.8 million on snow removal this year after budgeting $2.2 million. She said the town will seek to close the gap through savings from attrition and from trimming yet unspecified “operating expenses.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Gargiulo said her town can draw on a surplus account to cover the town’s roughly $200,000 snow removal cost overrun.

Both spokeswomen noted that their towns’ 2018 budgets were prepared last year by outgoing town supervisors. Gargiulo said Smithtown will consider increasing its snow budget next year by moving money from elsewhere in its Highway Fund.

Whether 2018 will end with as much snow as it began remains to be seen.

“We still need to think about what will come in November and December,” said Timothy Tenke, mayor of Glen Cove, which is $7,000 over its $100,000 snow budget. “One can only hope that Mother Nature will be kind to Glen Cove and Long Island.”

With Valerie Bauman, Khristopher J. Brooks, Sophia Chang, Vera Chinese, Stefanie Dazio, Carl MacGowan, David Olson, Jean-Paul Salamanca and Nicholas Spangler

Snow & removal

Officials in Long Island’s 13 towns and two cities have mostly avoided depleting their 2018 snow removal budgets:

BABYLON/Budgeted $1.6 million/Spent $800,000

BROOKHAVEN/Budgeted $5.5 million/Spent $5.5 million

EAST HAMPTON/Budgeted $402,795/Spent $462,795

GLEN COVE/Budgeted $100,000/Spent $107,000

HEMPSTEAD/Budgeted $2 million/Spent $1.38 million

HUNTINGTON/Budgeted $2.2 million/Spent $2.8 million

ISLIP/Budgeted $3.85 million/Spent $3,083,000

LONG BEACH/Budgeted $255,000/Spent $265,680

NORTH HEMPSTEAD/Budgeted $1,305,500/Spent $744,363

OYSTER BAY/Budgeted $1,727,540/Spent $1,595,345

RIVERHEAD/Budgeted $250,500/Spent $213,500

SHELTER ISLAND/Budgeted $95,000/Spent $93,271

SMITHTOWN/Budgeted $1.45 million/Spent $1.65 million

SOUTHAMPTON/Budgeted $983,000/Spent $622,000

SOUTHOLD/Budgeted $425,000/Spent $226,000

*Source: Town and city officials. Figures may be approximate or estimates.

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