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Despite budget cuts, snow plows will roll

November 01, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Eric Deike, Hagerstown's public works manager, hears the superlatives every year.

"The coming winter will be the harshest" or "the coldest" or "the winteriest" of all time.

"I don't pay attention to it," he said.

The bottom line: When snow falls, the city will clear the roads.

The same is true for Washington County.

"We anticipate continuing regular snow removal maintenance as needed," said Edwin Plank, the county's highway department director.

The city and the county, like municipalities across Maryland, took huge hits in a recent round of state budget cuts.

The city lost 92 percent of its state highway user revenue. The cut for the entire county, including its municipalities, was 90 percent.

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Both also lost police protection funding, although not as much.

Snow removal still will be treated as a necessity, Deike and Plank said.

If a severe winter requires more spending, the county will cut from its spring road maintenance, such as road patching, Plank said.

Washington County is budgeting about $500,000 to $700,000 for snow removal this year. Hagerstown figures on spending about $300,000.

Deike said the city had two harsh winters when it spent a combined total of about $1 million, twice what it expected. One mild winter, the expense was about $90,000.

The city tries to keep snow-removal costs low by using its own vehicles and employees working 12-hour shifts, Deike said.

"The county relies heavily on contractors," Deike said.

Sometimes, the city and county share the cost of a contract, such as when the city has to haul snow from the downtown area, he said.

The effect of state cuts is different in Hagerstown and Washington County. Deike said the city puts highway user revenue in its general fund. The county designates that revenue for highway expenses, Plank said.

To save money, Plank said, the county has kept two highway positions vacant and hasn't purchased new equipment for the last two years.

About 20 years ago, the department had about 130 employees, he said. Now, there are 89. He estimated that the county has added 12 miles of road per year over the last seven to 10 years.

"Our biggest goal is just to try to be able to get through the winter and see where we are when the snow all melts," Plank said.

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