No snow is good snow? Snow removal not a cheap proposition for the city

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, December 26, 2017

While having a white Christmas is the stuff of songs and Christmas cards, the reality is: snow is expensive

That is, when you have to remove it.

As you might guess, the more it snows, the more it costs to get rid of it.

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In wages, equipment and supplies, the city of Austin will typically spend between $15,000 (1-3 inches) and $25,000 (6 inches) per event, depending on the snowfall. There are about seven to 10 such events each year, said City Administrator Craig Clark, but there are probably a dozen or so more that are lesser events that might require just a sanding of some streets.

None of it is cheap.

The city on average uses 3,000-3,500 tons of sand a year, and “at $15 a ton, that would take us upwards, at the top end, of $52,000,” said Clark.

The city also uses an average of 350 tons of salt for a 90-10 sand/salt mix, at $79 a ton, or $24,500 in an average year, he added.

Equipment carries cost, too. Just a plow cutting edge — that thing that actually scraps the road — runs $700 and typically lasts three years on average, Clark said.

“This is the high wear part on a plow truck,” he said.

A new truck is $170,000, based on the last truck the city purchased, he noted. The entire snow equipment budget is about $196,685.

Wages associated with each snowfall averages about $8,150, he said.

“This depends on when the snow falls, and if we have overtime; or, whether we bring in additional help,” depending on the amount of snow to be moved, he said.

There has not been much in the way of significant snow this season —yet — but that doesn’t mean drivers are not busy, he added.

“When they are not plowing, they’re typically working on cleaning waterways and retention areas of brush,” he said. “This helps in a high-water event and keeps things flowing properly,” he said.

Lack of snowfall “allows us to save material costs, and wear and tear, but even a larger amount of just small events can add up, too,” he said. “Every snow fall is different.”

Oddly, Austin had about the same amount of snowfall over the season in the 2015-2016 year as in 2016-2017, even the latter got people to work earlier in the year. The 2015-2016 season had its first significant snowfall on Dec. 29, when 5 inches fells; the 6.6 inches of snow that fell on Dec. 11 was 2016’s first sizable snowfall.