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LI towns spent millions to clean up February snowstorms

A town payloader carries road salt at the

A town payloader carries road salt at the Huntington Highway Yard in January. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

This story was reported by John Asbury, Vera Chinese, Carl MacGowan, Deborah S. Morris, Keldy Ortiz, Ted Phillips, Jean-Paul Salamanca, and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by MacGowan.

Long Island highway and public works departments plowed through millions of dollars last month while fighting a succession of snowstorms that threatened to leave pothole-like gaps in municipal budgets.

While only one town reported exceeding its allotted spending to plow roads and spread ice melt, some officials said they spent more in February alone than they had in the past several years.

"We really got one big storm and several back-to-back-to-back," said Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro, whose department spent $4.6 million, more than the previous two years combined. "We had a couple of long-duration storms, which cost you a lot of money because you have to have not only your municipal employees but your hired people in for a long time."

The fiscal saving grace, highway chiefs said, was that last month’s fierce storms followed several years of relatively mild winters that had allowed them to stockpile salt and sand and move unspent cash into reserve funds — softening the hit on their 2021 budgets.

Newsday requested snow spending figures from all 13 Long Island towns. Some did not respond or did not provide figures.

Among those that did, officials reported spending more than half the funds set aside this year to battle the elements, or depleting their snow budgets entirely:

  • Huntington surpassed its $2.5 million snow budget, Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli said. He did not provide a specific figure.

  • Hempstead budgeted $1.2 million and has spent a bit less than $1 million, Supervisor Don Clavin said.

  • Brookhaven spent 92% of its $5 million budget.

  • Babylon expended $1,059,277, or 62%, of its $1.7 million budget.

  • Oyster Bay has spent $1.5 million, or 78%, of its $1,933,262 budget, spokeswoman Marta Kane said.

  • Smithtown has spent $926,554, leaving about $217,000 in its $1,144,208 snow budget.

Islip did not provide figures, but Supervisor Angie Carpenter said this year "has been the costliest winter in three years."

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town anticipates higher-than-normal snow costs, but officials did not provide figures.

After a mostly uneventful January, February announced its arrival with a storm that lasted three days and left up to 18 inches of white stuff in some places. Many town crews started working on a Sunday night and were still cleaning up the mess days later, officials said.

Spending spikes stemmed from a variety of factors, principally overtime for town crews working through the night for up to five days before, during and after the storm, officials said. Many towns also hired outside vendors — including landscapers, construction contractors and private citizens with plows on their pickup trucks — to move mountains of snow.

More than the amount of snow, the length of several February storms drove up costs, officials said.

"The duration of the storms is what killed us," Orelli said.

Budgeting for snow is an inexact science, officials said. Public works and highway officials base their budget requests on past winters and forecasts for the upcoming season.

Actual snowfall depends on storm tracks and temperatures that fluctuate wildly from one year to the next, making expenditures hard to predict.

"We’ve had far worse winters, but the past two winters were among the more mild ones that we’ve had in recent years," Losquadro said. "There are years when you don’t put a plow blade down and there are winters when you can get 40 or 50 inches of snow."

When it comes to budgets, "you kind of play the averages," he said. "You don’t want to put in too much, but you don’t want to put in too little, either."

Long Island crews used up so much of their salt and sand stockpiles last month that most have scrambled to beef up supplies, ordering tens of thousands of tons from a Staten Island salt dealer.

The silver lining, officials said, is that they should now have more than enough salt to get through whatever awaits them in the next storm — whenever that is.

"Who knows what may happen in December," Losquadro said. "You have to account for that, as well."

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