- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The snows during the winter of 2013-2014 were the most expensive on record for St. Mary’s County government to clean up. The final bills totaled about $997,000, the county commissioners were told Tuesday.
There were no blizzards during the snowier and colder-than-normal winter, but the snow storms came one after another, almost exclusively on weekdays and during the overnight hours.
Schools were closed for 12 days for weather during the winter. St. Mary’s County government was closed two days in March — one of them on St. Patrick’s Day, and opened late because of snow on other days.
“Each time we thought we dealt with it, along came a larger ” snowfall, said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer of county government, and more shifting funds around from other county departments to cover the snow removal costs.
“Some things in life are not predictable — snow is one of them,” Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) said. “It was a very rough winter.”
“We don’t budget for an unusual year,” Kramer said.
The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for the region for early Wednesday morning after highs had reached into the low 80s last weekend.
“Enough,” Jarboe said of the freeze warning and the cold weather.
The above-average snowfall in St. Mary’s last winter came in a series of relatively small storms. John Zyla, Ridge weather observer, recorded almost 28 inches of snow this winter in southern St. Mary’s where the average is 13.3 inches. The average goes up to 16 inches in central St. Mary’s.
The winter of 2009-2010 saw up to 62 inches of snow, a county record, and two consecutive blizzards in February in 2010. That winter ended up costing St. Mary’s County government about $680,000 to clear local roads — then the highest amount since the St. Mary’s department of public works and transportation began in 1984.
George Erichsen, director of public works and transportation, said there several factors why this winter became the costliest on record. Snow came down on “multiple days with successive storms back to back,” he said. “The other [factor] is timing. They started off-hour and ended off-hour” which resulted in having to pay overtime to road crews.
And when county government was closed down those employees working on the roads were also paid emergency pay.
The county used 4,938 tons of salt this winter. “That’s the most salt we’ve ever used,” Erichsen said. At one point, “we were down to less than 100 tons of salt,” he said, before more was delivered.
And the county’s response to snows was different this winter. Rather than treat and clear the first-priority county roads and then the secondary routes afterward, contractors and county employees went to work on all of the routes at the same time. “We’re providing a better level of service during more severe storm events by mobilizing contractors to do subdivisions and minor streets,” he said, at the same time as crews are treating the first-priority routes.