Local governments say they weathered winter storm with few problems

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Last week’s winter storm had a minimal impact on the budgets of York County’s local governments.

Parts of York County received up to 10 inches of snow from Tuesday to Thursday last week, according to the National Weather Service. The winter weather closed schools for at least three days and most businesses for at least a day. It also pressed local and state workers into the unusual task of removing snow from I-77 and other main roads over several days.

Despite that, local governments say the storm wasn’t too expensive.

York County’s public works office spent about $20,000 on materials and equipment, said the department’s director, David Harmon. Additionally, about $12,000 was spent on paying employees last week, a cost the county would have faced even without a winter storm.

The county’s public safety communications office operated around the clock throughout the storm. The office, which includes the county’s 911 emergency dispatch center, is located on Black Street in Rock Hill.

Director Gary Loflin reported about $500 extra was spent on paying some employees overtime last week. He arranged for more dispatchers to work during the storm’s peak hours because, he said, “if (people) dial 911, they want us to pick up and get them help.”

To save money, Loflin asked some of his managers and administrators to work night shifts. A usual shift has around six dispatchers. During the storm, his office sometimes needed eight or nine, he said.

In Rock Hill, the city hall stayed open and city crews spent much of the week scraping streets and clearing roads near emergency facilities such as hospitals and fire and police stations.

During emergencies or storms, the greatest impact on the city’s budget is usually overtime for employees, said Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager. With Rock Hill blanketed in snow for a few days, several workers couldn’t do their normal jobs so they were asked to help on street-clearing crews.

Rock Hill officials reported that last week’s storm did not necessitate a significant amount of overtime for employees but that this week’s catch-up work could mean some overtime. Officials are calculating expenses this week to determine the city’s total cost of the storm.

This fiscal year, the city budgeted about $1.5 million for its public works department to perform various street, sidewalk and curb and gutter maintenance. The cost of materials and employee wages associated with last week’s storm will be paid for from that maintenance budget.

Rock Hill avoided extensive costs from the storm because the city did not suffer any power outages, Bagley said. The multi-day weather event was “one of the least expensive storms we’ve had,” he said.

Large-scale natural disasters or extreme weather that causes power outages can cost cities millions of dollars, he said. When Hurricane Hugo ripped through the state in 1989, large parts of Rock Hill were left without power for more than two weeks.

A great lesson from Hugo, Bagley said, was that burying power lines around the city would limit Rock Hill’s vulnerability to power outages during major storms. Now, more than half of Rock Hill’s power lines are underground – reducing the chance of widespread power outages during storms.

In Fort Mill, town officials said the storm did not affect the town’s operating budget because some money is set aside every year to melt ice in case extreme winter weather strikes. Between $1,000 to $3,000 is spent annually on ice-melt material in Fort Mill.

Clover Town Manager Allison Harvey also reported “nominal” impact on her town’s budget. With town offices closed for nearly three days and the state Department of Transportation treating and scraping most of Clover’s roads, she said, the town didn’t spend any significant amount of extra money dealing with the snow and ice.

The state DOT’s local office is still calculating what it spent during the storm, which dumped several inches of snow around the Upstate. The expense estimate should be available later this week, officials said.

Debris cleanup in the storm’s aftermath is ongoing in SCDOT’s engineering District Four – which includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties. And the local office is ordering some salt, brine and sand to restock its materials storehouse.

Statewide, the department used about 1.4 million gallons of salt brine and more than 17,000 tons of sand, among other materials, to help keep roads safe for travel. The total amount of money spent could be “a shocker,” said Perry Crocker, assistant district maintenance engineer for SCDOT’s District Four.

But, he said, emergency aid money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency should help the state financially recover from the effects of the winter storm. President Barack Obama last week signed an emergency declaration for South Carolina, making federal money available to state officials.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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