Local Government Budgets Feel the Impact of Bad Weather Across the Nation

As Maryland residents prepare for yet another onslaught of  sleet, ice and snow, local governments throughout the nation are dealing with how the bill for this winter storm will impact budgets that have already been hit hard by the bad economy.  The New York Times reports:

“On a weather map, some people see snowflakes, I see dollar signs,” said R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, as a light snowfall brightened the white mounds lining the city streets.

Not that officials have any choice. The streets have to be cleared, of course, but often with fewer plows and less salt than in years past.

Many cities — New York among them — have already overspent their snow budgets and many more expect this storm to push them into the red. In Minneapolis, a record-setting series of snowstorms in December pushed the city over the snow-removal budget for 2010 by $3.3 million — more than the city spends on pothole repairs for the entire year.

Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, Mich., said that the snowstorm came at a “desperate time” for the city and that paying for snow removal would force him to make cuts elsewhere.

But, echoing the warnings of a number of mayors, he said that experience (and an uprising that forced him to make a public apology) has taught him not to skimp when it comes to plowing.

“The snow must be dealt with,” Mr. Bernero said. “The streets must be made safe.”

The expected damage from the storm is likely to take days to determine, but it was poised to deliver to the center of the country an unusually treacherous mix of snow, sleet, ice and high winds, inspiring forecasters to escalate the disaster rhetoric to an audience famously inured to extreme weather.

Crews started working in earnest on Monday to get ahead of the mess, and in many cases they were hampered by fewer resources at their disposal. The city of Milwaukee, for example, has significantly cut back on the amount of salt bought.

Public works departments around the nation have been among the hardest hit by budget cuts, with 60 percent of cities and 68 percent of counties reporting reductions — far more than those that reported cutting social services, parks or libraries, according to a survey taken last summer by the National League of Cities.

“It doesn’t make too much difference what’s in the budget,” said Richard L. Hanneman, former president of the Salt Institute, a trade association.

“If the citizens want the roads cleared, politicians will find a way to clear the roads,” Mr. Hanneman said. “And if they go over budget, they will figure out how to let the grass grow longer or the potholes grow deeper to find the money somehow.”



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