Road crews, budget survive winter

FAIRMONT – This past winter included a series of winter storm and blizzard warnings. For the Martin County Highway Department, it meant a lot of time on the roads.

“It was an above-average winter, but we’ve had worse winters in the past five years, so it wasn’t a budget-buster,” says Martin County Highway Engineer Kevin Peyman. “When I budget for the department for winter, I take an average of the past five winters.”

There were some areas over budget, such as fuel and overtime pay for plow drivers.

“It seemed we were always chasing small amounts of snow,” Peyman said. “There wasn’t a lot of snow this year, but it snowed and blowed around enough to go out.”

Most of this year’s storms occurred during weekends, meaning overtime for the plow operators.

“In the late winter, it seemed everything came in on the weekends,” Peyman said. “[The drivers are] putting in a 12- or 13-hour day, and still having eight-hour days during the week; it adds up.”

While not a big concern at this point, there could be budget woes if there is an early start to an above-average winter next year.

“We go by a calendar year and not a fiscal year,” Peyman said. “Next November and December, if it’s a late winter or mild, we may not be over budget.”

Fortunately, the highway department vehicles held out through the brutal cold.

“Any time with vehicles, the bitter cold is hard on equipment, and you will see more wear and tear even though there were no breakdowns,” Peyman said.

The most wear and tear though was likely on the workers who had to endure the long, cold winter.

“It does get wearing on them, when it just goes on and on and they’re always out in it,” Peyman said.

When the highway department goes over or under budget, its reserve is affected.

“Unless it’s an extremely bad winter, we don’t make up for it elsewhere,” he said. “Our reserve account goes up and down. If we continue to budget for an average season, the overall reserves will regulate about the same.”

In the case of a mild winter, or being under budget, that money goes back into the reserves.