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Snow removal getting costly in Maine

WINDHAM (WGME) -- They're big and noisy, but crucial for winters in Maine. Chances are you've seen hundreds of snow plows in the last few months. It's been that kind of winter in Maine. Already, we've had three ice storms. And snowfall amounts in southern and central Maine are running, on average, 17 inches above normal. And all that snow has led to towns like Gray, Cumberland, Standish, Sanford and Windham to nearly have spent all the money they budgeted for snow removal.

Windham Public Works Director Doug Fortier says "We're probably at 90 percent on overtime. On salt budget, we got a couple hundred ton left of money. Sand we're over." At the start of winter, Windham's salt/sand shed was full of sand, all the way up to the roof. Now, there's not much left. Windham, Gray, Waterboro and several other towns have already had to buy more sand. Salt supplies are also low in several towns. But it's the overtime budgets that are really strained.

Several of these storms have hit on weekends. And at at least two public works departments, Sanford and Portland, have already exceeded their overtime budgets for this winter. Portland is $150,000 over its overtime budget. Portland's Deputy Public Services Director Eric LaBelle says "The city manager authorizes us to overspend. We budget usually for an average year. Right now, as you see, we've got a pretty active year so we're slightly over right now."

Public works directors in several cities and towns tell us one or maybe two more snowstorms will certainly drain their snow removal budgets. It will then be up to cities and towns to find more money to spend on Old Man Winter. Windham is one of the few towns in Maine with a backup plan -- a winter weather emergency fund. Doug Fortier says "This has been the 8th or 9th year that it's been there. We've never had to tap into this reserve. But it's there for these winters that are crazy."

Fortier plans to ask the town council for permission to tap into that reserve at the next meeting. But it may not be long before public works directors in other cities and towns are also forced to ask for more money. If the situation gets worse, Maine towns and cities can ask FEMA for financial assistance to pay for part of the snow removal costs. So far, we don't know of anyone who has done that. Of course, it would always be worse. Parts of northern Maine have gotten 25 more inches of snow.