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Dave Olson, Published January 07 2011

Storms drain work budgets: Cities vow to keep cleaning despite funds being exhausted

Moorhead was one day into the new year when it exhausted its 2011 snow removal overtime budget – by more than $3,000.

Budgets were hit hard in Fargo and West Fargo, too, officials say.

Friday was a major culprit.

In Moorhead, about 18 city workers pitched in to help clear snow Friday, racking up 203 hours of triple overtime amounting to $11,267.

Workers will get three times their normal wage because the city recognized Friday as the New Year’s holiday.

“The holiday is a nice day to work, if you don’t mind giving up your holiday. There will be some nice checks going out,” said Chad Martin, Moorhead’s director of operations.

For working last Saturday, about 15 Moorhead employees will collect $7,701 for 278 hours of regular overtime, which is one and a half times normal wages.

Add about $500 that will go to pay seasonal workers who helped remove snow and the total overtime bill comes to about $19,400.

Moorhead budgeted $16,000 to cover overtime for snow removal for all of 2011.

That’s part of $250,000 the city budgeted for snow removal over and above typical winter street maintenance.

Martin said the city council will decide how to resolve the budget-line shortfall, but he said city reserves will likely be part of the answer.

Friday’s snow removal costs figure into the picture for 2011 because the last pay period of 2010 overlaps and the first pay period of 2011 overlap, said Martin, who stressed that crews will continue to clean streets when it snows.

“Please reiterate that,” he said. “We do not stop.”

Martin said workers did a good job Saturday and didn’t have to hit the streets again on Sunday, which would have meant double wages for workers.

“We were in pretty good shape Saturday, so we took Sunday off,” Martin said, adding that it takes about a week following a snow storm for workers to finish “touch-up” work around town.

In a given neighborhood, the touch-up work is usually done on garbage day, he said.

Martin said Moorhead still has plenty of salt and sand on hand for the remainder of the year.

The city budgets about $25,000 a year for salt.

When it comes to sand, the city has spent as much as $50,000 a year, but that cost has been reduced in recent years as Moorhead is reusing sand that was used for sandbags.

“We have another year’s worth to go, easy,” Martin said.

West Fargo officials are still working out how much the weekend storms will cost the city in overtime.

Finance Director Sharon Schacher expects the numbers will be ugly for the 2011 snow removal overtime budget but added that any shortfall will likely be covered by unspent dollars elsewhere in the city budget.

In Fargo, overtime costs from last weekend’s storms totaled about $82,000.

The city budgeted about $139,000 for snow removal overtime for all of 2011.

“I’m concerned about it,” said Ben Dow, the city’s director of operations.

However, he said, no matter how much more snow falls in 2011, the city will plow streets.

“You can’t give up services. And public safety is always the No. 1 thing,” Dow said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555