Previous mild winters help this year’s snow budget

La Crosse County used 2,500 tons of salt in 2017

The official start to spring is just a few weeks away, and that gives local cities and counties a chance to look at their snow budgets.

Two large ice storms in January required large amounts of salt and sand to be used on area roadways.

While that would normally put a dent in area snow budgets, Mother Nature has helped out during the past two years, and it’s providing a lot of relief for those cities and counties looking at their bottom line.

Instead of a winter wonderland it’s been a year of chipping away what winter has decided to throw us.

“A lot of extra ice, a lot of extra freezing rain, not so much snow accumulation,” said La Crosse County Highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain.

This year’s ice storms are something Chamberlain hasn’t seen very often.

“Most of the time we see one, two, maybe three ice storms a winter,” Chamberlain said. “This year, it seems like we’re getting ice in every storm, which is unusual.”

This year alone, La Crosse County has used over 2,500 tons of salt, an amount far greater than it used the previous two years. The county has only spent about 43 percent of its winter budget so far, thanks in large part to last year’s mild winter and the small amount of salt used.

“I had completely full sheds this last spring, which is very unusual. We usually have to take what we call early fill,” Chamberlain said. “Last year’s salt rollover really helped us out.”

In the city of Onalaska, it’s a similar story for their roughly $75,000 budget.

“We have two salt storage sheds here in the city of Onalaska that can hold a total of 1,600 tons. Those were both full to capacity at the start of this winter,” said Onalaska assistant engineer Kevin Schubert.

If officials were to ever go over budget, it could mean changes in the summer.

“We may cut a construction project. We may cut a high-maintenance project back,” Chamberlain said.

But they say it’s all part of a balancing process.

“With the reserve we had plus our normal purchase, we were in pretty good shape this year,” Schubert said.

“If you look at it on a cyclical basis, of say, five to 10 years, it seems to even itself out,” Chamberlain said.

The budgets are for all of 2017, not just the winter months.

They have to factor in November and December, as well as the remainder of winter.

We also spoke to the city of La Crosse about their snow budget, but they were unable to provide figures at this time.