City, state saving big on snow removal

Dylan Silver
Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Another sunny day, another saved dollar. Each week without snow, South Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada are saving money on snow removal.

“We’ve saved a significant amount of money in fuel, equipment usage and employee costs,” said Stan Sherer, who heads the city’s streets department.

The dry winter has few benefits for South Lake Tahoe. Saving money on snow removal may be one of the only.

“We’d much rather have snow here and have our town bustling,” said city spokeswoman Nancy Kerry.

The city’s big blue plows have only been out a handful of days this year. That means less diesel, fewer broken chains, less coffee for the drivers and countless other expenses that can rack during a heavy winter.

“We’re clearly not spending the amount of money we did last year,” Kerry said. “We’re spending less money than we have budgeted.”

Of course, winter isn’t over. Snows in March and April could bring snow removal costs back to what’s been budgeted. The city won’t be counting any savings until they’re sure it’s not going to snow anymore for the season, Kerry said.

Last year, Caltrans spent about $20 million on snow removal in District 3 – which spans 11 Sacramento Valley and Northern Sierra counties – and had up to 125 people on each I-80 shift and 65 people on each Highway 50 shift, said spokesman Gilbert Mohtes-Chan. The money the agency saves on snow removal this year will go toward other projects and maintenance, Mohtes-Chan said.

“We’re saving on snow removal and spending on other maintenance,” he said. “It balances out.”

The Nevada Department of Transportation is already counting the money it has saved. So far the agency has tallied more than $250,000 in overtime savings over last year, said spokesman Scott Magruder.

Less snow doesn’t necessarily mean less staff. Though the city has had to cut some temporary drivers, the staff they do have on the streets crew are hard at work, Sherer said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of crack-sealing, a lot of pothole-fixing,” he said. “Everyone we have is just redirected to other projects.”

Magruder echoed the statement, saying staff who usually do snow removal are working on other road maintenance.

“We’ve got them working,” he said. “There’s a number of things they can do to get us ahead of the game.”

Even private snow removal services have had to find things to do without snow. All snow removal staff at Alpine Smith Snow Removal are salaried employees, said owner Daron Smith. They’ve been getting work, despite the lack of snow, he said.

“We’re taking care of all the back-burner projects that we’ve been saying we’ll get to,” Smith said. “We tend to keep pretty busy, even without snow.”

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