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Snow Total Downgrade May Be Good News for Highway Department

Highway department still on track with budgets, but weekend storms are costly.

Snow totals for this weekend's storm have been downgraded from 6 to 10 inches to 4 to 6 inches, which may be a good thing for Merrimack's Highway Department in terms of keeping their budget on track.

Winter storms are costly. Weekend winter storms are more so when you start factoring in overtime.

Highway Department Operations Manager Adam Jacobs said in an email this weekend that weekend storms generally cost around $800 an hour in labor between plow drivers, mechanics, and supervision. That's in addition to fuel usage and any sand or salt that’s needed.

With the Feb. 8 storm that had the highway department working around the clock and several small a medium snow and ice events in February, Jacobs said.

"I think we’re just under 75 percent expended on our OT budget, with the weekend storms definitely running that number up a little faster than usual," Jacobs said. "Our OT budget has been trimmed a little over previous years, but we’re right about where we should at this stage in the winter. I would estimate we have about 1/3 of our salt shed left, so we’re in decent shape with that as well."

While ideally Public Works officials would like to see some of that salt left at the end of the winter, they are in a good position with road treatment materials, as they don't generally buy them until after the winter is over. 

With a couple of light winters preceeding this one, the highway department has been able to stockpile a substantial amount of road salt, and what's being used now has not even dipped in to the money that was approved in 2012-13 budget.

If the town were to run out of salt before the winter is up, they wouldn't be overexpending the budget to buy more to finish out the winter.

With a $50,000 cut to the sand and salt budget in the proposed budget for 2013-14, any materials left over from this year go a long way toward keeping the department's stores of material robust for next year.

The Feb. 8 nor'easter that dropped upwards of two feet of snow on Merrimack, cost "just over $35,000 between a lot of OT and limited material," Jacobs said.

"We had a couple event call-ins earlier in the week, so we had quite a few employees in the 60-70 hour range," he added.

With lower snow totals this weekend, that should hopefully spell good news for highway departments around the state, but as Jacobs pointed out, the snow is expected to be heavy so if it brings down tree limbs and causes power outages, the department could be kept busy cleaning up debris.

Patch will bring continued storm updates through the weekend. State police are recommending motorists limit travel during the heavier part of the storm which is expected overnight Saturday into Sunday, but a winter weather advisory from the National Weather Service is in effect for Merrimack and other parts of southern New Hampshire until midnight on Sunday.

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