CHICAGO/WASHINGTON Feb 2 Wednesday's massive
winter storm is the latest pain in the budget for U.S. cities
and states as it sweeps across the North American continent,
freezing finances along the way.
The snow and ice storm has hit some 30 states and a third
of the U.S. population, some of whom have gone on their Twitter
feeds to dub it "Stormageddon" and "snOMGeddon."
From Rhode Island to North Carolina, funds set aside to
clear roads and sidewalks have run dry. To make matters worse,
the price of salt used to melt ice and snow has doubled in
The latest storm comes as many cities and states struggle
to balance anemic revenue and bigger demand for services due to
the 2007-2009 economic recession.
New York City, which has already been through several
rounds of snow this winter and estimates that each inch costs
the city about $1 million, last week said it had exhausted its
$38 million budget for snow removal.
In Chicago, which is flirting with records from the
Tuesday-Wednesday storm, the costs could eat up much of the
city's $14.8 million allocated for snow removal and hurt its
already feeble budget.
Even without a major snow event since 1999, normal winter
storms in subsequent years have pressured the budget of "The
Windy City" as overtime and other costs fed into a deficit.
Heading into fiscal 2011, which began on Jan. 1, the city
dipped into reserves to help eliminate a nearly $655 million
shortfall that represented 19.3 percent of its operating fund.
The country's top snow wrangler -- Bret Hodne, the public
works director in West Des Moines, Iowa, and recently named the
Snow and Ice Control Award Winner for 2010/2011 by the American
Public Works Association -- said agencies must make tough
choices on snow removal.
"The money has got to come from some place," said Hodne,
whose agency spent twice as much money on snow removal than was
budgeted last year when the city was hit by a huge storm.
"There aren't a lot of good solutions."
Agencies are considering raising fees or reducing response
times to snow storms, Hodne said. Some may raid funds for other
services, which means that in the summer cities may forego
repairing roads or laying down new pavement.
"One of the big costs that gets overlooked is the economic
impact it has when you start shutting down road systems and
transportation gets stifled," Hodne said.
Sales taxes, a key revenue source for many states and
cities, will likely slump as snowbound workers and shoppers are
unable to leave their homes due to a lack of public transit or
dangerous road conditions. Moreover, shipping companies are
stuck trying to move goods on highways across the country.
States are mostly charged with clearing those highways.
Then there is salt spread over slippery snow: through the
end of January Pennsylvania had used nearly 528,000 tons of it,
according the state's transportation department. A shortage one
winter led agencies to snap up salt the next. Over four years
prices went from $30 per ton to at least $60 per ton today,
(Additional reporting by Joan Gralla and Edith Honan in New
York; Editing by Dan Grebler)