Saturday, October 12th, 2013
By William Kincaid
Limited storage nixes opportunity for lower salt costs
  Mercer County missed an opportunity to buy road salt for the winter season at a lower price through the state's bidding process due to limited storage capacity.
The county next year may accept the state salt deal through the Ohio Department of Transportation after a new, $4.5 million engineer facility is constructed. The proposed complex will significantly increase the county's present storage capacity of 500 tons to meet the state required minimum purchase.
ODOT on Thursday announced it secured salt prices at a statewide average of $35.83 per ton compared to $54.02 two years ago. Actual ton amounts vary by county. If Mercer County had joined the state bidding process, it would have paid Cargill $56.41 per ton of salt for the upcoming winter instead $65.23 per ton from The Detroit Salt Company.
"ODOT's bid requires the local government to take 80 (to) 120 percent of the amount we ask them to bid," county engineer Jim Wiechart told the newspaper.
The higher bid of $65.23, which as accepted by county commissioners in June at the recommendation of Wiechart, does not stipulate how much salt the county has to accept at one time.
Wiechart said he would have loved to accepted the state bid. Officials can't unload the salt just anywhere without risking environmental issues, he said.
"Next year about this time we will have the necessary storage to handle at or near that quantity," Wiechart said.
Last year, the county paid $67.96 per ton to The Detroit Salt Company, which had submitted the lowest bid. Crews in 2012 used 1,132.50 tons of salt costing the county $76,941.
The Mercer County Engineer's Office maintains 389 miles of roadways. Nearly all 14 townships and the city of Celina purchase road salt from the county as needed.
Conversely, Auglaize County this year saved money by not joining the state's bidding process. County commissioners accepted a low bid of $41.69 per ton from American Rock Salt; the state's bid was $46.91 per ton from The Detroit Salt Company.
Gary Kuck of the Auglaize County Engineer's Office said sometimes the state receives the lower bid and other years the county gets the deal. Commissioners bid for 1,000 tons, bringing the total price to $49,680. According to the contract, the county must pay for a minimum of 800 tons and the company will supply up to 1,200 tons, if needed.
In 2004, the low bid for salt was $39.45; in 2005 the price increased to $43. The price climbed to $67.84 in 2007 and remained in that range until the price fell last year to $49.68.
Last winter, Auglaize County, which maintains 348 miles of roadway and sells salt to a majority of townships and other municipalities, experienced an average season, according to Kuck, with 1,130 tons of straight salt used. The county also used 11,523 gallons of a beet juice/brine mix.
ODOT claims its bidding process saves taxpayers money. State and local governments this year are expected to purchase 1.1 million tons of salt.
   In years past, salt companies had only one bidding option and were required to provide ODOT with an estimated price per ton of salt, per each of Ohio's 88 counties. The lowest bid per county won. But in 2012, ODOT changed its method and gave salt companies the option to provide bids across entire ODOT districts, in addition to individual counties. The result has driven down road salt prices.
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