Cities plowing through winterby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
This winter's white December has kept snowplow drivers busy, and the forecast is calling for more snow into next week. Even though there has been a lot of snow, city officials are reporting that their plow budgets are in good shape.
St. Paul, Minn. — When winter hits, all of Vicky Stich's plans get put on hold.
"I can't plan it because if I plan it, I know it's going to snow," she says.
Stich has been driving a plow in Minneapolis for 32 years and like her colleagues, she has worked 12-hour days for the last two weeks clearing snow.
That is a lot of overtime. With about 75 plow drivers out, snow emergencies cost Minneapolis about $400,000. St. Paul spends about the same amount each time the city declares a snow emergency.
"It's like the fire department, they have to keep putting out the fires," says Natalie Fedie, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul Department of Public Works. "We just have to keep plowing the snow there is no way to anticipate how many you're going to have per year."
Fedie says dealing with this much snow is business as usual. She says it is residents who have gotten used to recent mild winters. Even with December's early storms, she says St. Paul will likely stay within its budget for this year.
St. Paul has so far declared four snow emergencies. Minneapolis has declared three. Both cities budget for snow removal based on historical snowfall averages and weather forecasts. Still, it is a guessing game.
Mike Kennedy, the director of transportation, maintenance and repair for the city of Minneapolis, says snow emergencies are the most expensive snow and ice event the city handles. Snow emergency ticketing and towing add to that cost.
Still, Kennedy says snow is a fact of life in Minnesota. With the cost of round-the-clock staffing and equipment, a few minor snowfalls can cost more than a single snow emergency.
Minneapolis' 2007 budget for snow and ice removal is about $8.4 million. So far, plowing expenses are closing in on that figure.
The total expenses for 2007 won't be in until January or February when the city closes out its books. But if the snow keeps up at this rate, Kennedy says the city could overshoot that.
"We try to be as cost effective and responsible as we can to try to meet that budget, I mean that is what our job is, to hit that budget," says Kennedy. "But at the same time if it keeps snowing, most of the time the City Council says keep going and we'll find some money."
Plow driver Vicky Stich says the budget is the least of her concern at the moment. She says plow drivers' exhaustion is made worse when residents don't move their cars for snow emergencies.
"That's what I really hate, but then I like it when you have a straight shot and there's no cars and you look back and it's totally clear. You just have a good feeling about that," Stich says. "The street is ready, it's driveable and anybody can park."
By the time spring rolls around, Stich will be ready for a vacation, preferably someplace with no snow.
- Morning Edition, 12/28/2007, 7:25 a.m.