February 23, 2019

Cortland County runs low on money for road salt

Two storms' worth in the barn; no money in the bank

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

A county plow truck fills up on road salt Tuesday at the county salt barn on Traction Drive in Cortland. The county has enough road salt for perhaps two more storms, but is low on money to buy more.

Cortland County has enough salt for two more heavy snowstorms, county Highway Superintendent Charles Sudbrink estimates, but rising costs and underbudgeting means he’s out of money to buy more.

“We have a half a barn full of salt, which is usually good for two good storms like this,” Sudbrink said Tuesday at a meeting of the county Legislature’s Highway Committee. “That budget line is depleted. I mentioned it at budget time and was told to wait.”

Sudbrink said the department has budgeted for only 13,500 tons of salt, but has used an average of 15,000 tons a year over the past five years.

The rise in cost doesn’t help, he added. The price of salt has increased 20 percent from last year to about $52 a ton. Before the increase salt had cost between $35 and $40 per ton. The increase meant Sudbrink could buy about 10,400 tons of salt before funds were depleted.

“We got the last two loads yesterday and we’re down to $260-something in that account,” Sudbrink said Tuesday.
He asked the committee for money to buy at least 4,000 more tons of salt — $208,000.

He said he couldn’t take the money from other department budget lines because much of it comes from state programs like the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program or the Bridge NY program.

The 4,000 tons of salt would last until the end of the winter season, Sudbrink said.

“After May I’ll know how much the New York State DOT (Department of Transportation) is reimbursing us and that should fill the barn for October, November and December because almost half of our roads are state roads and they give us so much money up front,” he said.

Sudbrink said it also didn’t help the budget this year that he had to use 2019 money to pay for salt he bought in December. The salt bought in December was used to replace salt the department would normally store for use until the end of the year — setting them back 2,000 tons, Sudbrink said.

“I don’t want you to short yourself on the salt I want you to go ahead and get it,” Legislator Sandra Price (D-Virgil, Hartford) said. “I would feel a little more comfortable transferring money after we have a better idea of where we are with closing out the books.”

However, Eric Mulvihill, the legislature clerk, said he’s not sure exactly when the 2018 books will be closed.

“We don’t have a real good read on what’s in general fund,” he said. “We know there’s money there. We know we have money, but we just don’t know where that’s going to land until we officially close the 2018 books, which is going to be a couple more months.”

Price suggested taking from the contingency fund because while the fund is low, it had enough money to cover Sudbrinks costs.
“We know we have that,” Price said.

“You’re going to use the entire contingency and then we’re going to need to add more money to it,” Mulvihill replied.

“That is the product of under-budgeting,” Price said.

The committee voted to authorize the purchase of 4,000 tons of salt not to exceed $250,000 and to take that money from the general fund.

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