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Lehigh Valley

Winter of 2013-14 cost Allentown $2 million

That total is twice the normal amount the city spends.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Snow removal during the winter of 2013-14 cost Allentown more than $2 million, twice as much as the city normally spends in winter.

That figure was reported to City Council's public works committee Wednesday night.

Allentown managing director Francis Dougherty said the city's public works team did a marvelous job fighting "the horrendous winter" and its "almost unprecedented" snow amounts.

He said it also did a very good job of managing its resources. "We never ran out of salt, unlike other municipalities."

Craig Messinger, interim public works director, said the city had more than double the amount of snow than the 31 or 32 inches of snow it usually gets.

Overtime was the primary reason costs were higher, said Messinger, but he added the city also hired private contractors to help with snow removal.

Messinger said the fact that many storms arrived on weekends added to overtime costs. "If a storm comes on a Monday, we can get it pretty much get it cleared up during the week."

Dougherty indicated Allentown is in great financial shape compared to the impact the winter has had on other cities. For example, he said Philadelphia spent $18 million to clear its streets during the winter, three times what that city normally spends.

"We're very pleased with where we are financially," said Dougherty.

"The actual impact on the general fund is probably the lowest throughout any of the cities in the area," said Messinger.

Messinger explained Allentown did not get harder hit financially because the city "stockpiles away a little bit of money" for snow removal in years when it only gets 12 or 20 inches of snow.

He said last year, for example, the city saved more than $440,000 because it did not need to hire many contractors, buy much salt or pay much overtime to its truck drivers.

City Council's public works committee is recommending that next week the full council approve the transfer of nearly $660,000 from several city funds to replenish money used to combat the winter – not only to the streets department but to other city departments that helped as well.

Dougherty noted the city parks department, for example, is coming up on its busy overtime season. "They spent a lot of their overtime on the winter and did their share." In fact, Messinger said the amount of snow removal help from the parks department was unprecedented.

Messinger said some of the transferred money will be used to pay $238,000 still owed to private contractors.

He noted only about $171,000 of the nearly $660,000 will come from the city's general budget.

The three members of the public works committee commended the "excellent" job done by city officials to keep the costs of the winter of 2013-14 from being higher.

"This was the year we had the most trucks out ever," said Messinger, adding that did not include private contractors.

He estimated that, after snowstorms, 48 city trucks were out during the day after snowstorms and about 30 at night.

Messinger said plow drivers were putting in 12-hour-days, even on weekends, for weeks. "It was to the point where guys just really didn't want to do it anymore."

Dougherty said in recent years the city has been acquiring more trucks for its fleet that are capable of plowing snow and spreading salt, no matter what department usually uses those vehicles.

"Not only did we have to contend with all the snowfall, but we also had to contend with extreme cold temperatures, which created a lot of damage to our roadways," said Mark Shahda, the city's streets superintendent.

In all of 2013, according to Shahda the city filled 4,800 potholes.

So far in 2014, he said, it has filled 3,100 potholes. Saying the city still faces a lot of pothole work, he predicted it may double last year's total. He added other winter-related street repairs also have to be done.

The proposed transfers to a number of city accounts are for the partial restoration of funds "due to the unprecedented amount of expenditures for snow removal, plowing, materials and salting for the recent storms."

"Our winter's not over yet," noted Messinger. "Our budget goes from January until the end of December."

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