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City's road salt running out fast

Feb. 4, 2014

By the end of January, Wauwatosa had used up more than 80 percent of its salt for the entire year, and Public Works Director William Porter was looking to buy some more.

Porter started the year with about 4,500 tons of the stuff, and city trucks had sprinkled 3,800 tons before the first month was over.

The city spent $237,500 on its first allotment, at $52.49 a ton, and is eligible to buy about 643 tons more at the same rate from the state Department of Transportation. That's an expenditure of $35,000 that will have to come out of the city's contingency fund, City Finance Director John Ruggini said.

The city's contingency fund of $200,000 covers unexpected expenditures, like the needed salt.

Depending on how long the "snow machine that we're in" lasts, Porter said, he may have to make a request in the fall for yet more salt. If that happens, the city will have to buy it on the spot market, which could be a more expensive proposition.

Salt is easily the largest portion of the city's snow and ice removal budget, Ruggini said. But overtime for city workers is another factor. Through the first two weeks of the year, the Public Works Department had spent $12,000 on overtime, and, though he didn't have a figure yet for more than one pay period, Ruggini noted that a lot of snow had come down since then, much of it on weekends.

Wear and tear on vehicles is another winter expense, as is overtime, which is budgeted for each department.

While overtime is likely to exceed the budgeted amount for the Public Works Department, other departments — Police or Fire, for example — might spend less than anticipated, so Ruggini said he isn't worried.

"It's too early in the year to worry," he said. "I'll start worrying in November."

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