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Towns and County grapple with heavy “hefting” price of snow

Many businesses rejoice after storms

Without a doubt, the early-season snow Crested Butte has been receiving is satisfying the desires of local powder hounds. And with every storm, many business owners profit directly from selling winter goods or handling and removing snow. However for every dollar earned as powder accumulates, government agencies with an obligation to plow and handle the snow find a deepening hole in their coffers.

 

 

 

Mt. Crested Butte finance director Karl Trujillo says whenever the snow starts to fall, the budget gets noticeably tighter. He says the town has a fixed contract with Gunnison County to plow along Gothic Road and some roads in town, but there are plenty of roads left over for the town’s crew of five maintenance workers to plow, often into overtime hours.
Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker also says overtime is an issue in town. “It’s double wage inflation, and double energy use,” she says of cleaning up after snowstorms. Parker says not only does the town pay its laborers more, but it also has to pay more to keep equipment fueled and working properly. “That first (December) storm broke everything we had,” she says.
Parker says another issue the town may face if the snow keeps up is the cost of hauling snow to a down-valley storage location. Parker says as more buildings are erected in town, the space to store snow decreases. She says the town’s available storage is just about maxed out after the recent snowfall.
Parker attributes the high amount of overtime hours to the condensed nature of the storm—40 inches fell within 48 hours between Sunday, January 6 and Monday, January 7. “If it was spread out we could handle it,” Parker says. She says there is a year-round road maintenance staff that is budgeted for only one shift. “Unfortunately snow doesn’t always fall in that shift,” Parker says.
Gunnison County public works director Marlene Crosby repeated similar hurdles for her department. The three-day, early-January storm will cost the county $110,000 in personnel and equipment upkeep, excluding fuel, she says. Part of that cost is due to 1,400 hours of overtime, she says.
Gunnison County spends an average of $18,000 a month on gas and diesel fuel for all of its departments. Crosby says the fuel cost for December was $40,000, due to the abundant snow.
Crosby says handling snow is a significant cost, and the county doesn’t necessarily receive any financial benefit as a result of snowstorms. Other areas of the public works budget must be cut to cover the expenses, she says. “For the last couple of years we’ve gotten by fairly cheap, and we’ve been able to save the money and do more road maintenance in the summer. Obviously that’s not the case this year. We’ll just have to curtail summer work,” Crosby says.
PR Property Management owner Greg Wiggins also says his business is challenged when several feet of snow fall in a short period of time, and if the snow fell consistently over a longer period of time it would be easier to handle. “It will take us easily three weeks to clean that up,” Wiggins says of the last storm. “In the property management business, (big snowstorms) inundate us,” Wiggins says. He says when big storms hit, the business has to hire outside contractors with front-end loaders to handle the larger snowbanks and tough driveways.
Wiggins says storage is also an issue, and if the snowstorms keep up they will also need to have snow hauled off in dump-trucks. Although it costs his business more to hire outside services, Wiggins says  those other service providers receive an economic benefit.
While the county and municipalities may not see a financial benefit from snowstorms, several local businesses do.
According to Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Randy Barrett, anytime there is snow in Crested Butte it brings more skiers, and more economic turnover in the area. "It’s a better situation than not having it. We all know what this type of snow does for the season," he says, adding that the results are often immediate as many people follow the good snow. Barrett says a snowstorm means many resort workers will have to start working at 5:30 a.m., but the extra costs of handling deep powder are far outweighed by the bonus of additional skiers.
True Value hardware store owner Ben Sweitzer says bad weather is often good news for his business. “Oh yeah, no complaints from us,” he says. During the early January snowstorm, Sweitzer says, there was definitely an increase in business, with most of the extra consumers targeting winter goods like shovels, ice melt, and tire chains. “There were still a lot of people coming in during that last one. We had 120 shovels in the last order. They’re already gone,” Sweitzer says.
Sweitzer says dealing with snow, even though it snows every year, is often an unprepared activity. “It’s definitely spur of the moment. We don’t sell a single shovel until we get several feet. We still have to keep an overstock of several hundred shovels,” he says.
Wiggins says snowstorms are absolutely an economic driver to the snow removal business. “It can turn an average month of doing services to a good month where you can pay bonuses in the spring,” Wiggins says.
According to weather.com, more snow showers are forecasted through Sunday, January 13. 

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