The snow may keep falling, but the Connecticut Department of Transportation and towns across the state have already exhausted the funds designated for its removal.
The major snowfalls of 2014 — which have caused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to declare a state of emergency — have sent towns across the state scrambling to replenish their snow removal budgets. Officials interviewed at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, as well as the Department of Public Works in the City of New Haven all said that they had either spent more than previously allocated in their budget for snow removal.
DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said the agency bases its funding allocations on a 10-year average of past snowfall, and that this policy will not be changing in the face of going over budget. Nursick said this year’s snow removal budget deficit was unexpected, and in the 10 years he has worked with the agency this will be only the second time it has run out of money for snow removal.
“The gamble is always the budget, because you never know what Mother Nature is going to bring,” he said. “You can get a ballpark number, but you can never be exact, so you need to be prepared to adjust up or down if needed.”
Connecticut’s DOT budget troubles reflect nationwide trends. According to USA Today, North Carolina, Colorado, Wisconsin and New York Departments of Transportation have all already spent more than was allocated for snow removal or are about to. The Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts’ transportation authority has spent its entire snow removal budget.
Nursick said the current budget impasse has not affected DOT’s snow removal efforts. He declined to say where in the DOT budget the extra money would come from, but he did estimate that if the snowfall continued at its current rate, the agency would have to seek additional help.
“We have mechanisms to shift money inside the agency to shore up the snow budget,” he said. “In the worst case scenario we have to go back and ask for some additional funding [from the Governor and Legislature].”
Across Connecticut the DOTs financial trouble are largely undetected. Sally Katz, director of physical services for the Town of Wethersfield, said that the Connecticut Department of Transportation still plows state roads regardless of its current state of funding and that “[the DOT] has not diminished [its] efforts at all.”
Greg Arndt, the director of public works for the City of New Haven, said individual towns and cities have mechanisms in place for snow removal, and that aid from outside agencies or governments are only requested in dire circumstances, such as Winter Storm Nemo’s pummeling of New Haven last year.
“Even though we’ve had a lot of storms this year, none of the storms have been comparative to an emergency [like] what Nemo dropped on us last year,” he said. “So that really leaves the town and cities to get through the winters on their own budgets.”
New Haven City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that City Hall is asking all of its departments to keep track of their own expenses with regard to snow removal in the case that the city might become eligible for reimbursement.
He reiterated that City Hall is fully behind the efforts of the Department of Public Works, as well as other snow removal agencies.
“The mayor is concerned but not alarmed, and recognizes the need to provide for public safety throughout this harsh winter,” he said.
Grotheer said the New Haven Department of Public Works has already received one transfer of $200,000 from elsewhere in the department’s finances to cover the materials and man power to help the city deal with inclement weather, and that a comparable amount will be transferred soon. Because of the severity of the winter and the number of hours that workers have had to labor removing snow, the department is also expected to overspend in the area of overtime pay before the current fiscal year reaches its close — June 30.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has a budget of approximately $550 million for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.