This winter has been a rough one for towns all over the East Coast. With more than a dozen snowstorms, it has been particularly difficult for Connecticut municipalities to afford snow supplies, as well as overtime pay for snow-removal crews.
The situation is so critical that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency last week to ask the federal government for help with the road-salt shortage.
In Darien, the Department of Public Works is already running a deficit on overtime pay and has had to buy more salt this week, according to town officials.
Town Finance Director Kate Buch said the department had $89,829 budgeted for overtime pay, but has spent more than $136,000 since the fiscal year began July 1. A large part of that amount has gone to snow-removal work, she said.
"We're looking at $47,000 in the hole," Buch said Tuesday.
The budget covers 10 storms a year, but the town has seen about 18 so far. Last year, the department had more than enough money, according to Director of Public Works Robert Steeger.
To make up for the deficit, the town will get money from its contingency account, Buch said.
As for road salt, the department had 400 tons as of Wednesday, which Steeger believes would be enough for about three large storms, but the town has just ordered 600 more tons, he said. The building where Darien stores its salt holds 1,500 to 2,000 tons. In terms of budgeting for such supplies, town officials said the department has enough money to buy more.
Even though Darien can afford to buy road salt, it hasn't been easy to get it because of a shortage on the East Coast.
Malloy announced Feb. 14 a relief package prepared by the state Department of Transportation for all towns facing road salt shortages after so many snow and ice storms.
"These consecutive, long-duration events have challenged the resources of towns throughout Connecticut, in terms of stretched budgets and inventory of salt to treat road systems," Malloy said in a news release. "Those challenges have been compounded further by regional and national shortages of salt due to unprecedented demand by both public- and private-sector entities responding to this year's storm season."
If supported by the federal government, the emergency declaration would eventually allow towns to be reimbursed for some of these weather-related costs.
What's also driving up costs in Darien, Steeger said, is the use of outside contractors. The department uses contractors for the municipal and train parking lots because it can't handle the work with the current force.
Staff writer Megan Spicer contributed to this report.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson