Thursday, December 29th, 2011
By Shelley Grieshop
Savings pile up
Lack of snow means less spending by area residents, governments
  A lack of wintry weather has saved local agencies more than $380,000 in road care expenses compared to previous years.
With less than three inches of snowfall in the Grand Lake area since November, state and county road crews have spent only about one-fourth of the average cost to plow and de-ice local roadways.
The Mercer County Engineer's Office, which maintains 389 miles of county roadways, is under budget by $107,000 for the two-month period. In Auglaize County, the mild weather has saved taxpayers about $60,000 in county road maintenance, county engineer Doug Reinhart said.
"At this time last year, we had dispatched trucks out for 17 different (weather) events, most in December," he said.
Since November 1, his crews have been called out only three times, Reinhart said.
Plowing snow and spreading salt along 348 miles of highway cost about $3,200 per day in diesel fuel, he said. Other expenses include manpower, equipment and supplies such as road salt.
Reinhart and other officials said funds not used this winter for snow and ice removal will help pave more roads next summer. Ironically, a ton of de-icing salt costs about the same as a ton of hot mix used for paving - about $68.50, Reinhart said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has spent less than $31,000 to keep state routes in Mercer County clear of snow and ice in November and December, according to Mandi Abner, spokeswoman for ODOT. That's $103,000 less than normal during this time of year. ODOT expenditures in Auglaize County are down $110,000, Abner said.
Steve Zehringer, ODOT transportation manager in Mercer County, said the agency's 6,000-ton salt supply has barely been touched this winter. His workers, like other road crews, are keeping busy with tasks they normally can't do this time of year.
"Some like it," he said. "Some don't care. Nobody's getting overtime."
Statewide, ODOT has spent $2.8 million this year dealing with snow - a drop in the bucket compared to the $18.5 million they spent by this date in 2010.
Walt "Oop" Raffel of Raffel's Engine Service in Coldwater said sales of snowblowers started early but have definitely dropped in recent weeks. Customers appear to be waiting on the weather, he said.
"It's those 'wait and see-ers' who won't buy 'em until it snows," he said. "Traditionally, if there's not snow on the ground by Christmas, people start thinking March ain't that far away."
He said he's not troubled by the snow deficit. People have already begun bringing in lawnmowers to prep for next spring.
"Most of the time they can't get them out of their garages and sheds this time of year because of snow drifts," Raffel said.
The Grand Lake area averages six inches of snow each December, which is 5.3 inches more than this month's tally, according to local weather forecaster Dennis Howick. Although snow has been scarce, rain has not. The total for the year is nearly 56 inches, just below the record rainfall of 60.33 inches, set in 2003.
The short-term forecast promises little of the white stuff, Howick noted.
"We may see snow in the air yet this week but it won't amount to anything," he said.
But what about the rest of the winter? The Farmers' Almanac predicts a "very white and wet" winter for the Ohio region with average temperatures and above normal precipitation. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast is similar but doesn't stipulate if the expected precipitation will be rain or snow.
Reinhart admits the area has "dodged a lot of bullets" so far but realizes it's too early to count on a snow-free season.
"There's a lot of winter left to go yet," he said.
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