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Snow Removal Budgets Still Holding up Despite Big Snow in December

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa The big snowstorm just before Christmas may have suggested Eastern Iowa was in a for "real" winter after a relatively mild season in 2012. But even a foot of snow in some areas from that storm hasn't really hurt snow removal budgets.

Craig Hanson, public works maintenance manager for Cedar Rapids, estimated the city budgets about $720,000 for salt, sand and overtime to clean up after snowstorms. He said the city's at about the halfway point of the winter season now. But he's only spent about 20% of that total budget. Public works managers in Iowa City and Dubuque estimated they'd only spent about 25 to 30 percent of their budgets during the same time period.

Hanson said when it comes to snow removal, sometimes it's not how much it snows, but how often. He said a lot of little snows that bring out the plows can drain the budget faster than one big snowfall. So while it's about six percent colder this winter in Cedar Rapids, based on utility heating degree days, snow removal spending to date wasn't a lot cheaper last year.

"Last year at this time, we were 10% to 15% (of budget spent) because there was three inches less of snow on the ground," Hanson said.

Hanson said the one big snowstorm on December 20th is the reason the city has spent about $50,000 more on salt this winter compared to last. That snow followed by cold required more chemicals to get it off streets. But the city's overtime bill for plowing is down a couple of thousand dollars because crews haven't been called out that often.

Several workers on a sanitary sewer crew on Wednesday said they'd only gotten six or seven hours of overtime out of that one storm after getting called in to plow streets. One worker, Dallas Hyke, said the few opportunities for overtime may have disappointed some.

"I'm not missing it right now, but some people probably are," Hyke said.

Some businesses that count on commercial snow removal for part of their winter business are starting to focus on other areas. At Culver's Lawn and Landscape in Marion, the focus now is turning to what's happening in the greenhouses.

Todd Culver, company president, said his greenhouse workers started potting plants on schedule January 2nd. He's eager to make sure that business is up and running because customers started wanting spring plants earlier than usual because winter ended so early last year.

Culver said last year, some landscaping crews started outdoor projects like new patios as early as the first week in March. The way the weather is going now, he'd guess another early start on those kind of outdoor jobs is likely once again.

"Last week, it was in the 50s. The snow's gone and nothing's in the forecast. We're looking at the possibilities of a similar year now to a year ago and we'll get an early start again like last year," Culver said.

Hanson said it's way too soon to count on any snow removal savings just yet because a lot of winter remains. But if there is money left over, like last year, it will go into other street work.

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