Snow removal pushes street division $227,000 over budget

Sunday, July 14, 2013 | 5:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Snowstorms this winter shuttered schools and businesses, closed roadways and forced residents to leave cars stranded at curbs, along side streets and even in intersections, while city workers scrambled to clear the roads. The Columbia City Council will be handed a bill for those snowstorms Monday night, totaling $227,000.

"Due to the considerable expenses incurred (by the street division of the Public Works Department)... street maintenance and snow removal accounts are over budget, particularly in personnel, fleet maintenance and equipment," according to a memo sent to the council by city staff.

A proposed ordinance, which will be read for the first time at the council meeting Monday, would appropriate money from the general fund to the snow removal and street maintenance accounts to make up for the cost overruns. An amount of $85,000 was requested to cover personnel expenses, and $100,000 was requested to cover fleet maintenance costs.

A snowstorm that rolled into town the morning of Feb. 21 dumped nearly a foot of snow across town and forced MU into a rare campus closure. Students and faculty trying to get home after the 11:58 a.m. closure clogged the roadways, many taking more than an hour for commutes that usually take 10 minutes. Abandoned cars made it more difficult for city trucks to clear the streets.

A second snowstorm struck overnight Feb. 25 and 26, bringing Columbia's total February snowfall to 20.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service. That total was the second largest February snowfall on record, trailing only the totals from the 2011 "Snowpocalypse."

At a May 6 council work session, city staff recommended council expand a pilot program where neighborhoods would be plowed first if they agreed to move cars off the street, add GPS equipment to trucks and plows, contract with a towing service to assist in moving stalled cars and approve funding for a $211,000 wing plow, which would be used on wide and multiple lane roads. 

As recently as February 2012, the city council was discussing how to spend surplus snow removal funds, according to a previous Missourian report. Less than average snowfall during the 2012 fiscal year, left the city with $400,000 of unused snow removal money, which was partially returned to the department.

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