I-Team: How COVID could impact winter road funding this year

I-Team: How COVID could impact winter road funding this winter

For weeks and in some cases months, crews have been hauling and dumping and piling up hundreds event thousands of tons of salt in salt barns across the Miami Valley.

Salt is the savior when it comes to crews battling Ole’ Man Winter and Mother Nature. But salt can be expensive in Dayton and in Greene County. News Center 7′s I-Team is looking closer at whether COVID could mess up the road crew’s plans for our roads this winter.

“Last year we were paying 87 dollars a ton”, said Fred Stovall, Director of Dayton Public Works.

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“We were paying around 92 dollars a ton last year,” added Stephanie Goff, a Greene County Engineer.

But in the latest go-around in buying salt, road departments got a big break in cost. It is all about too much supply and not enough demand. Because of this, prices plummeted. The City of Dayton has just paid 46 dollars a ton for this year. The same happened in Greene County, which now has 35 hundred tons ready to go for the 320 miles of roads it plows and salts. Those are the facts and nothing COVID can do to change that. But then there are the coronavirus variables.

Stovall told John Brown that Dayton’s 2020 snow budget, which is January through December was 500 thousand dollars. But up to this point he has spent about 90 thousand dollars less than he anticipated.

“Is it realistic you have to prepare for fewer collars next year? Oh yeah, definitely be prepared for fewer dollars, that’s no doubt,” he said.

Stovall will not have the answer until December because the city is still working on next year’s budget.

“Is the threshold for when seeing trucks, is that going to change as far as snow removal? No. For our deployment, we are going to maintain the same level of service depending on what Mother Nature brings us,” he added.

However, everyday COVID is his number one concern.

“COVID could be a different situation. If I have people who can’t come to work, that could be a nightmare. That is the nightmare I hope doesn’t happen. Too me, going into the pandemic, that is the biggest threat.” Stovall said.

At the Flower Stop in Downtown Xenia, when COVID hit, it really cut into sales. But recently business there has been strong. The owner, Heidi Hilderbrand hopes to keep it that way. She told John Brown why snow plows and salt trucks are so important for her family-owned business.

“90 percent of our business is delivery,” she said.

She does not want slick, dangerous roads to slam the breaks on her own road to recovery.

“We can deal with the snow. It’s the ice that makes things more treacherous,” she added.

When COVID first hit, Greene County engineer’s budget took a big hit.

“I three months, we were down 415 thousand,” said Goff.

That was money she did not get from gasoline sales taxes, license plate renewals because fewer people were driving. The county delayed two road repaving projects and shifted that money into things like salt and snow removal because that is her number one priority.

“That is number one to us, we want to make sure everyone can commute safely,” she said.

Our investigation looked at 13-counties in our Ohio and Indiana viewing area. The I-Team asked three dozen municipalities if COVID would impact their snow plans this winter. 15 responded and only Kettering said it expected to ‘slightly reduce” its snow and ice services.

But what so many worry about, like Stovall and Goff were quick to point out, what if crews get or are exposed to COVID and have to stay home?

“We are also talking to other counties and ODOT. We are all getting together looking at some type of mutual aid for each other if we have to,” said Goff.

One of the good things in all of this, road crews are out by themselves, in the trucks. Not working closely together makes it easy to social distance. If Green county winds up being short on drivers, the boss has her commercial driver’s license and knows very well how to run this.