BY ANDREW SMITH
STRATFORD – The long harsh winter continues to have an impact on the bottom line of Perth County, with extended winter maintenance pushing public works into the red.
Public works director Matt Ash reported at the March 20 meeting of Perth County council that the steady snow since January has been keeping road crews busier than expected.
“We’re definitely running well ahead of where we should be at this time of year,” Ash said. “It’s kind of a fool’s game to make predictions, but there’s no doubt because of how far ahead we are already it’s highly unlikely we’ll make our budget figure by year-end.”
Perth County’s 2013 winter maintenance budget was also in the red by the end of the year, facing a deficit of $1.2 million. The deficit was offset by $658,000 in winter maintenance reserves and scaled back operations during the summer months. Ash said a similar plan would be used during this summer to try and gain some ground in the budget.
“In years gone by what we’ve done is scaled back on summer activities to try and help the over-expenditure in winter,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room in summer, so sometimes it’s difficult to achieve too much.”
Coun. Rhonda Ehgoetz suggested using some of the $685,000 in the Levy Stabilization Reserves to help out the winter maintenance budget, rather than just sitting on the money.
“I have a hard time saying we’re going to hoard this money and not spend it,” she said. “We’ve already taken it from the taxpayers, let’s spend it.”
Ash said public works usually looks at surface treatment and shoulder gravel as areas to scale back costs, and that other operations are difficult to trim.
“A lot of other things we do, such as ditching and tree maintenance, there’s not a whole lot of money in them to begin with,” Ash said. “It’s really hard to reduce them.”
Coun. Julie Behrns expressed some concern with shoulder maintenance taking a cut, as it may become a liability concern for the county. Behrns also said there is still a considerable amount of clean up left from the December ice storm.
“I would suggest we discuss it as a budget amendment to take money out of the levy stabilization to put into winter maintenance,” she said. “I’m not saying public works can’t find some other efficiencies, because there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Ash agreed that limb removal from the storm would be an added cost once spring arrives.
“It snowed right after, so all of those tree limbs are still out there under the snow,” he said. “We know we’ve got that coming at us once we can get at it.”