April 11, 2012SANBORNTON — Reports last week that Sanbornton was facing a deficit due to a bad mud season have been slightly exaggerated, and Selectman Karen Ober said that while it is true that the Department of Public Works has encountered unusually high expenses due to the early and swift thaw this year, not all is doom and gloom.
"There's still approximately $35,000 left in the highway department's budget, and about two and a half months left in the fiscal year. We're just looking for an additional $20,000-$40,000 to help keep things running smoothly for them until then," Ober said.
That budget hunt began after the selectmen's meeting last Wednesday evening. Ober said that before Town Administrator Bob Veloski and Finance Officer Curt McGee could even dig deep into the remaining budget, the town was able to come up with some of the money needed for the department.
"Right away, they found unused funds in the transfer station budget, which is under the highway department, so we can just move that over," Ober said.
A new contract for household waste pick-up left an additional $20,000 in the budget, and that will keep the department operating as the fiscal year nears an end. In the meantime, the selectmen advised other town departments to keep their spending to a minimum.
"Discretionary spending is being asked to help us reach our goal," Ober said.
She added that there are no concerns about meeting payroll for town employees, and the only issue is the cost for diesel and other expenses within the DPW itself.
Van Tassel has been keeping the selectmen updated on the unusually bad conditions and the expense his department has been incurring to keep roads safe for travel.
"I've kept the lines of communication open with the selectmen, and what we were spending, but we really didn't have a choice in the matter. There was tow truck after tow truck pulling people out of the mud. It's all about public safety in an instance like this," Van Tassel said.
With nearly 40 miles of dirt roads to contend with, Van Tassel has staggered shifts with employees so that the road grader is able to operate 12 hours a day to get the situation under control without paying overtime.
"It's actually worked out well, and I think we might do this every year during mud season," he said.
Hardest hit were Cram, Perkins, and Philbrook roads on one side of town, while Hermit Woods and Eastman Hill were also heavily affected by the rapid thaw. Van Tassel said the soaring temperatures in March thawed ground that was saturated last fall, and nighttime temperatures did not dip below the freezing mark as they typically do, which helps to slow down a thaw.
Gravel has been hauled to many of the roads to keep them passable, not only for the residents, but for buses, police and fire vehicles. Van Tassel is grateful for the hard work performed by not only his crew, but by local contractors who have helped haul in gravel and stone to prevent vehicles from sinking into the mud.
"Everyone's given 110 percent. They've done a phenomenal job, over and above anything I could ask for," said Van Tassel.
This type of shortfall in the highway budget is not common, but not unheard of, either. Fortunately, a mild winter this year left money in the budget for plowing, salting and sanding the roads, but in 2008, the town was hit with unexpected costs due to a record snowfall.
"You just never know what's going to happen," he said.
Ober said she was pleased with the way the department itself has strived to keep costs down. Crews have been focusing on one area at a time to get roads back into shape rather than moving around from one side of town to another in their day.
"That's helped save on their time, and on diesel fuel costs as well. They've been doing a great job at being mindful of the expense while still getting the job done," she said.
Van Tasssel said he anticipates most of the repair work and grading will be completed in the next month, and now that the worst is over, parts of the crew have moved on to other regular maintenance work in the town.
"We're not the only town dealing with this, and we'll be fine. We'll make it," Van Tassel said.