If past history is any indicator, the Town of Leesburg should expect a deficit in its annual snow removal budget.
The Town Council this week awarded contracts for snow and ice removal totaling $149,803. The contracts cover snow plows and heavy equipment needed for winter storms, and include agreements with 13 vendors. That amount should get the town through an eight-and-a-half hour snow or ice storm event, said Renee LaFollette, director of the town’s Public Works & Capital Projects Department.
The total amount budgeted for snow and ice removal in fiscal year 2021, which ends June 30, 2021, is $292,400. The additional amount above the $149,803 contract includes the cost of salt and town staff overtime and lodging needed to keep staff members in town for 24-hour operations.
Although the preference would have been to award a contract to cover a 24-hour snow or ice event, the price tag, including mobilization/demobilization costs, would be significantly above the budgeted amount, to the tune of $356,232.
“In order to get all the needed equipment under contract, staff is proposing to contract with the successful bidders for 8.5 hours for the needed vehicles, labor and equipment. By reducing the number of initial hours, all necessary equipment can be contracted within the existing budget of $155,000,” a staff report stated.
Should the costs for winter weather exceed the existing budget—which has often been the case in the past five years—the staff would return to the council for a supplemental budget appropriation.
Councilman Ron Campbell requested the staff provide a five-year history of the amounts budgeted for snow and ice removal, and the actual costs incurred. What that five-year history showed was that, on average, the town runs a deficit of more than $158,000 when it comes to its snow and ice removal costs. LaFollette said each winter season can have anywhere from five to 20 call-outs for service.
“We’ve gone through this and we absolutely understand we under-fund this budget,” Campbell said. “We can’t continue to pile up deficits and just think we’re going to be able to cover it by moving around money or having position vacancies that we can gain some efficiencies from.”
Campbell said this year it may not be as easy to find funding to cover a deficit for snow and ice removal services with the COVID-19 pandemic causing town government revenues to decline.
“We’re in a hole, we’re going to be in a hole,” he said. “It’s just a shame the council didn’t vote to approve a 1-cent [real estate] tax increase last year that would’ve covered the snow removal budget.”
Councilman Neil Steinberg agreed that it was disappointing the council could not find support during the spring’s budget deliberations to put more funding toward snow and ice removal. However, he remarked, come January the council will have a different makeup, with three new members.
The vote to award the snow and ice removal contract passed unanimously.