Surplus of winter's white stuff drives DPW budget into the red

As the snow piled up in Fairfield, so did the costs -- nearly double what had been budgeted to clear streets, lots and sidewalks.
As the snow piled up in Fairfield, so did the costs -- nearly double what had been budgeted to clear streets, lots and sidewalks.Genevieve Reilly

Winter pummeled the town with one snow storm after another this year, allowing scant time to clean up after one onslaught before the next one hit.

The nonstop storms have taken a toll on people's patience, the local school calendar and, most of all, the town's budget.

The Department of Public Works had budgeted a total of $408,102 to cover staff overtime, outside contractors, materials, repairs and meals. The bill, however, now stands at nearly double that amount at $830,644, meaning the department's officials need to find another $422,562 to cover the shortfall.

The DPW's overtime account was budgeted at $125,000, but the actual cost turned out to be $276,131. Outside contractor services had been allotted $50,000; however, $157,371 was spent to hire plows to clear roads and parking lots, the road at the Fairfield Metro Center railroad station, and sidewalks and bridges. Property owners whose private sidewalks were cleared of snow and ice by the town because they did not comply with the ordinance that requires they be cleared within 24 hours will be billed.

The storms used up the 3,000 tons of salt, purchased at a cost of $173,280, but the DPW had to buy more, spending an additional $329,670 for another 4,000 tons.

Repairs to trucks and plow blades were necessary along the way, as well. Those repairs were double the $20,500 budgeted, costing $40,295.

According to town Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer, the funds to cover the overages will come from "multiple sources" and officials are in the process of determining that right now.

Even once the snow is gone, the problems won't be over as frost heaves and pot holes pop up.

Public Works Superintendent Scott Bartlett said that could mean some scheduled road work will have to be rearranged.

"I would say that sections of roads might have to be moved up for repair, but I know of no full road for repair," Bartlett said. "In addition, there are roads that might have required one treatment, but after the winter, the pavement might require a different treatment now."

He said officials will continue to adjust pavement treatments based on road conditions.

The storms also prompted the school district to cancel classes more than once. As of now, that means the last day of school has been pushed back to June 17, according to Superintendent of Schools David Title.

And while news of an impending storm predictably drove many residents to clear grocery shelves of storm essentials -- milk, bread and eggs -- other businesses have taken a hit, either unable to open because of the weather or lacking snow-bound customers.

"There is no question that it has been a tough winter and business has suffered as a result," town Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said. "Many retailers describe a direct correlation between foot traffic/sales and the weather."

Barnhart and local merchants are keeping their fingers crossed that the weather improves.

"As the weather improves, people come out to shop," he said. "We are certainly hoping for nice springlike weather toward the later part of this month in connection with our Shop & Stroll into Spring event."

The spring Shop & Stroll will take place March 26, when participating shops will stay open late and offer complimentary hors d'oeuvres and seasonal refreshments from 5 to 9 p.m. Participating restaurants will also offer dinner and drink specials that evening.