This winter’s weather has tapped out city’s snow and ice funding

By Isabela Gladston, contributor

Winter 2021 hasn’t been epic like the North American blizzard of 2010, which dumped 18 inches of snow on Harrisonburg. But it has still tapped out the city’s emergency snow funds. File photo by Holly Marcus.

About a half-dozen snows — plus some sleet and ice — this winter have maxed out Harrisonburg’s quarter-million-dollar budget for winter weather, including for snow plowing and road salt. 

“We’ll have to go to council to make sure we get all the costs covered,” said Harsit Patel, support services manager for Harrisonburg Public Works. “And generally they do, but obviously this years a little bit (tougher) just because of the fact that we are coming off of a COVID year and the budget, in a general sense, is already tight.”

He said this year’s snow and ice budget was $258,000, which is separate from the city’s general resources budget. The snow and ice budget accounts for salt, employee pay and overtime required to clear the streets and city sidewalks. 

In all, Harrisonburg had to plow roads once in December, then again on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, and had to deal with snow and/or ice four more times in February.

“Obviously this year is a lot more than last year so we didn’t budget as much because you can’t foresee what’s gonna come,” Patel said. “Once the season is over, Public Works will go to council to re-appropriate funds in order to cover the cost of that budget alone.” 

He said no matter what, the Public Works Department will continue to take care of the city streets, sidewalks and make sure that everything within the city is as safe as possible for people to travel.

Harrisonburg hasn’t been the only community facing increased costs associated with weather. And other states, such as Texas, have fared much worse. For instance, John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas state climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, said in a Fox4 article that Texas hasn’t seen temperatures this cold in more than three decades.

Matthew Tobia, Fire chief at Harrisonburg Fire Department, said Harrisonburg was lulled into a false sense of security because last year’s winter was milder than usual.

“So, this year, we fell into a kind of recurrent weather pattern, where we were getting steady, but not significant amounts of snow and other weather-related emergencies,” Tobia said.

On the bright side, Tobia said the fire department did not see an uptick in emergencies that typically occur during winter-related conditions, such as more motor vehicle accidents, structure fires and power outages.

“The city has a great Public Works Department. They do a tremendous job of clearing the streets,” Tobia said. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated team of people and of course, our fire department personnel are trained and prepared, but we are also appreciative when we don’t have to go out and deal with tragedy.” 

The Harrisonburg city website describes what residents should do in case of dangerous winter weather and also lays out the Public Works employees snow and ice routes. Tobia said because residents have heeded the warnings from the city this winter, there haven’t been many weather related emergencies . 

“I think these types of smaller weather events highlight the need for continued preparedness because I think what they really show is that the Valley is subject to severe weather,” Tobia said. “Being prepared is the most important thing.”

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