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Kandiyohi County's snow budget still miles from debilitating 2010-11 cost

WILLMAR -- The heavy, wet snow that fell this week will give a bump in Kandiyohi County's snow removal expense column for the season, but it doesn't come anywhere close to what the county spent last year.

During a road and bridge meeting Thursday, the County Board of Commissioners reviewed the budget history from January 2010 to January 2012.

The two previous winters "were really bad," said Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

During a three-month period from November of 2010 to January of 2011, the county spent $583,374 on snow removal, including a quarter of a million dollars just for December of 2010.

The warm and nearly snow-free winter season this year resulted in a cost of $156,954 for the same three-month period, with just $35,000 spent this past December.

"The fact that it quit snowing was just a great thing for the budget," Danielson said.

A graph Danielson distributed to the commissioners depicted the cost of snow removal for the 2010-11 winter season as a huge jagged mountain.

This season it's barely a snowball.

That's not to say there wasn't money spent this season.

Some icy roads in January resulted in about $100,000 being spent on chemicals, and the cost to clean up the snow on Wednesday won't be cheap either. The final cost isn't known yet, but Danielson said because the snow was abnormally wet, the equipment got extremely poor fuel mileage.

He said each of the 19 units on the roads this week burned up about 130 gallons of diesel fuel. Some units got as little as 1.8 miles per gallon. "That'll be a blip on the graph," he said.

The commissioners on Thursday also discussed policies for future action to turn back some county roads to townships.

The intent is to improve transportation safety while determining which jurisdiction should be responsible for the maintenance of certain roads. Any so-called turn-back plan would likely include the county improving the road with grading or resurfacing before townships take it over.

The county is in the process of meeting with all the townships to discuss potential turn-back partnerships.

Danielson said the county currently owns roads that are strictly used for local use and should not be classified as a county road.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said the county needs to be careful not to "dump too much on the townships" that might not be able to afford the extra maintenance costs.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen agreed, saying that a map with a large number of proposed turnback roads could be "inflammatory" and send a wrong message to townships. He said roads will not be "crammed down throats" of townships.

But Madsen, who was recently appointed to the Governor's statewide transportation task force, said townships do need to know that because of the economy, there will be changes and "not every road will be a freeway."

The county is currently working on a turn-back plan with Kandiyohi Township. The commissioners agreed to take a day-long road tour later this month to gather information for future turn-back decisions.

In other action at Thursday's road and bridge meeting, the commissioners:

* Approved the 2012 construction schedule of $8.8 million, including the $3.1 million Eagle Lake road project.

* Approved a $105,000 grant proposal to fund a 1.3-mile bike trail near Eagle Lake north of Willmar. If a state Department of Natural Resources grant is approved, the county would provide a 25 percent match.

* Approved an agreement with Roseland Township for road improvements associated with the Roseland community's construction of a new sanitary sewer collection and treatment system.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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