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Weekend snowstorms cost thousands of dollars in overtime pay

Tribune file photo by Bill Zimmer In this February 2007 file photo, a Kandiyohi County snowplow clears drifting snow along Kandiyohi County Road 1, north of Prinsburg. Storms this December have hit on weekends, which means snow removal has cost the county more than it would during a work week because of the overtime wages paid to the work crews.

WILLMAR -- Weekend snowstorms can be fun for kids, skiers and snowmobilers, but time-consuming for public works departments and expensive for taxpayers.

Just about every snowstorm that's hit this year has happened on a weekend.

That has cost Kandiyohi County taxpayers thousands of dollars more to clear snow from the county's 650 miles of roads than during a weekday because of overtime wages.

Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Gary Danielson said this winter is shaping up to be a "bad" winter that could push costs to $500,000.

With a tight state budget that is, in turn, squeezing county finances, clearing snow to ensure public safety could mean less seal coating and resurfacing on roads next summer.

"We only have a certain number of dollars to work with," Danielson said.

"Once we know how the winter is going, we end up making corrections in our construction program," he said. "What ends up suffering is preventive maintenance."

The plowing budget had been on track for 2008 until December hit with a weekend of freezing rain, followed by weekends of considerable snow and lots of wind.

"Clearly we'll be well over the ($400,000) amount that we consider regular," Danielson said.

Talk of slimmer budgets leads to talk of reduced services. But reducing snowplowing services is a "tough call" to make when public safety is at stake, Danielson said. He prefers to err on the side of safety.

"Public safety comes first. If we need to spend the money, we'll take it from someplace else," he said. "Public safety is our charge. We take it seriously."

The county has a fleet of 19 snowplows and has contracts with eight private operators. "It's a big fleet," Danielson said.

Besides the 650 miles of county roads, crews also plow 373 miles of township roads. Townships reimburse the county for those costs.

That sizable crew is needed to "meet the demands of the world we live in versus the world of 20 years ago."

People want to have roads cleared quickly so that they can get to work and -- especially during the Christmas holiday season -- get to town to shop.

Crews worked hard to get the roads cleared of snow and ice for Christmas, but with more wind and dicey weather in the forecast for this weekend, Danielson is already seeing the costs go up. "It doesn't look real good," he said.