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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 31 2008

Too much white puts cities in red

December’s record snowfall has buried snow removal budgets for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

Thanks to mountains of overtime piled up during December’s blizzard and snowstorms, Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth have seen snow removal costs for 2008 that will end up 40 to 100 percent higher than budgeted.

Fargo was already about $115,000 over its $285,000 snow removal budget before Tuesday’s snowfall, Operations Manager Al Weigel said.

By the time the streets are cleared of the latest snow, Weigel said the city will be $140,000 to $150,000 over the calendar-year budget for 2008.

It was the big mid-December blizzard that was the budget-buster, he said.

“Even our supervisors said it’s been since the ’97 storms since we’ve seen so much snow,” Weigel said.

Weigel said Fargo city crews have been working around the clock to haul snow out of cul de sacs, widen streets – even uncover buried mailboxes.

He said some budget items will be deferred to help balance the budget.

Fargo’s December snowfall total as of noon Tuesday was 33.5 inches, according to John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for WDAY-TV. Wheeler said about 8.8 inches had fallen as of noon.

That topped the previous single-month record of 31.5 inches of snow set in January 1989, he said.

In Moorhead, budget relief comes Jan. 1 and a new budget year, Public Works Director Chad Martin said.

“Overtime, is not looking too good. We’re upside down right now” with the snow removal budget, Martin said.

Martin said Moorhead’s ice and snow removal budget was $117,000 for 2008. Before Tuesday, the city had spent $141,000, “and I can see us doing another $25,000 quickly before the end of the year,” he said.

In West Fargo, Public Works Director Barry Johnson said the mid-December blizzard was a black hole of overtime to clear the streets.

City Administrator Jim Brownlee said the city budgeted $20,000 in overtime for snow removal in calendar-year 2008, and was already $18,000 over that, not including extra hours tied to the latest snowfall.

Dilworth’s Maintenance Supervisor Don Vogel was “plowin’ snow, pushin’ snow” Tuesday, clearing the streets with a payloader.

Finance Officer Sherri Farwell said Dilworth budgeted $2,500 for overtime to remove snow through the calendar year.

“We’re probably double that right now for overtime” for 2008, she said.

Fuel costs were also nipping the city, Vogel and Farwell said. Farwell said Dilworth had spent about $5,000 more than the $15,000 budgeted for diesel, thanks to high prices and extra snow removal.

Weigel said Fargo adjusts its budget to the costs tied to recent years, which lately have been low to normal for snowfall amounts.

“It’s a crap shoot,” Brownlee said of budgeting for snow removal.

All of the officials contacted said they felt they had sufficient supplies of salt, sand and road de-icing solution to get through the winter.

Wheeler predicted the area would perhaps see light snow overnight tonight or New Year’s Day.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583