Little snow so far affects stores, budgets
Snow blower sales, plow overtime down
Highway superintendents and hardware store owners have a couple of things in common during the winter. They have to keep their eye on the weather and make sure they have the right snow and ice removal equipment available.
The weather is not having much effect on most municipal budgets this winter, although local hardware store operators have differing points of view about how the weather is affecting their bottom line.
For the second consecutive year, Lake Country, so far, has experienced an unseasonably warm winter with limited amounts of snow - although snow was predicted for later this week.
"This winter is not a whole lot different than last winter in that this winter, so far, has been a pretty easy year," observed Owen Salzman, highway superintendent in the Town of Oconomowoc.
The lack of snow and cold weather during November and December can have a lasting effect on hardware store sales, according to Dana Marcelina of Elliott's Ace Hardware, which has five stores in Southeastern Wisconsin, including Pewaukee.
"If there isn't a lot of snow on the ground or the temperatures aren't cold, they (consumers) aren't going to buy the snow blower or install window sealers to keep out the cold because they don't think they need it. And if the snow and cold come in January, after Christmas, it is too late. They have Christmas bills to pay, and they think they can get by a month or two without the snow blower or window sealer," Marcelina explained.
The problem, Marcelina adds, is the store must purchase the equipment in the fall so they are prepared for an early winter.
"If you don't have it when customers need (it), it is too late. But, if you don't sell it, you own it," he added
Jeff Burchardt of Loreleburg's True Value Hardware in Oconomowoc noted there has been more temperature fluxuation this year which has resulted in more periods of freezing followed by thaws followed by freezing. As a result, there has been a greater need for ice and water removal equipment.
"Instead of snow blowers, I am selling more rain gutters and sump pumps," he said.
The rural legend that the number of snow plow operators needed to clear snow determines the size of a small town, village or city budget in Wisconsin is no longer true, according to Town of Merton Highway Superintendent Tim Klink.
"We have so many more roads to clear and so many more regulations that have to be followed that it means everyone has to do more than just plow snow," he explained.
Most municipalities in Lake Country base their snow-removal budgets on average snow falls and temperatures over an approximate five-year period.
It helps to provide more accurate estimates of salt purchases which have to be made in April and May, five to six months before winter begins, explained City of Delafield Public Works Director Tom Hafner.
The larger municipalities, City of Delafield, City of Oconomowoc, Village of Sussex order around 2,000 tons of salt a year in order to make sure they have plenty. Any salt left over is usually stored to be used the following year.
The overtime hours necessary can vary. For example, the City of Oconomowoc paid about $72,000 in overtime in 2007 compared to about $28,000 in 2010.
The amount budgeted each year usually depends upon the five-year average. If more is budgeted than is required in a year, general fund cash reserves are used to make up the difference between what was spent and what was budgeted, according to City of Oconomowoc Public Works Director Mark Frye.
If there is overtime money left over, it is placed in the general fund surplus, he added.
Because of how snow and ice removal is budgeted, an unusually light or heavy winter for a year or two is not likely to have a significantly impact on a municipal budget, according to Jeremy Smith, Sussex village administrator.
However, an exception to the rule is smaller municipalities who contract for snow removal surface, according to Ottawa Town Clerk Melissa Klein.
These include, the towns of Ottawa, Genesee and Mukwonago and the villages of Merton and Wales who all contract for snow removal.
The contracts are generally based on an hourly rate and the equipment that is used.
"If there is no snow it can make a big difference in our budget because we don't have to pay as much," she explained.
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