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Flurry of Storms Strains Snow Removal Budgets in So Maine
02/27/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

As yet another winter storm moves into Maine, the snow removal budgets in some cities and towns are reaching the breaking point. Portland has already had its fifth snowiest February on record.  Other municipalities in York, Cumberland, Knox and Androscoggin Counties have had so much snow that they now qualify for federal disaster relief funding. And as Jay Field reports, Kennebec County may soon join the list.

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Flurry of Storms Strains Snow Removal Budgets in S
Originally Aired: 2/27/2013 5:30 PM
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In Waterville, where Mark Turner runs the public works department, the problem isn't so much the amount snow the city has had this winter. Turner says the city has dealt with plenty of big storms in recent years, but the timing was good. "The storms all happened during the work day - on Monday through Friday. So that benefitted us significantly, as far as costs go," Turner says.

You see, when it snows during the week, Turner doesn't have to pay the city's twelve plow drivers as much overtime. But this winter, virtually all of the big storms have hit on weekends.

"During the blizzard we had guys working two to three days," he says. "And then we have to do a clean up, final clean up afterwards for the downtown area. So some of these guys had almost 30 hours of overtime."

That's forced the city to use up 90 percent of the money it had budgeted for overtime this winter. Turner says his fuel budget is also stretched thin. It's the same story in other cities and towns, especially in southern Maine, where Nemo, the big blizzard, dumped the most snow.

Portland set aside just over $1 million for snow removal this winter and has used up almost all of it. Biddeford is $65,000 over budget on overtime. But Rob McAleer says some relief may be on the way. McAleer runs the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

"We had four counties - and that's York, Cumberland, Knox and Androscoggin - that sent to us estimation of how much the storm cost them," he says.

The counties, and the state, it turns out, are eligible for disaster relief funds from the federal government. McAleer says it's now up to Gov. Paul LePage to decide whether he wants to ask for a disaster declaration from the federal government.

"If we receive a disaster declaration, then those allowable expenses would be refunded at a rate of 75 percent by the federal government, 15 percent by the state, and then the locals would have to pick up the other 10 percent," McAleer says.

McAleer says the situation in Waterville and Augusta, which has also been shelling out a lot in overtime pay, makes it likely that Kennebec County would also qualify. And he's encouraging other counties to add up their snow removal numbers too.

Of course, not every part of the state is strugglign like southern Maine.

"What we're hearing, overall, from our members is that their road budget are holding up pretty well," says Eric Conrad, who is with the Maine Municipal Association, which represents town and city governments, large and small, across the state. "They have about a third, or maybe a quarter, of the money and supplies that they need still left, and they only have March to go."

Conrad, though, is quick to add that this IS Maine, a state where snow throughout March - and even into April - is not uncommon. 

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