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Despite winter storm, Iowa City saving money thanks to overall lack of snow

BY STACEY MURRAY | JANUARY 31, 2013 5:00 AM

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School districts were closed, buses were slowed down, and students trekked across the icy University of Iowa campus as snow fell Wednesday morning.

Before Wednesday, however, Mother Nature brought only a few flakes this winter — and left city workers sitting on stockpiles of sand.

Iowa City saw roughly 3 to 4 inches of snow Wednesday, and this snowfall was one of the first of the year, closing the Iowa City School District.

“It hasn’t been a hectic pace, but we have found things for the staff to stay busy and continue to put in a good day’s work,” said John Sobaski, assistant superintendent of the Iowa Street Division.

The winter thus far in Iowa City has slowed the Iowa City Street Division, along with work for the UI Facilities Department.

Iowa City spends on average between $400,000 and $600,000 per year on snow removal, but officials estimate this year’s expenditures to be around $300,000. This, however, is not as low as last year’s spending.

Rick Fosse, the city director of Public Works, said the department used significantly fewer resources this year, an echo from last year’s report. The city accessed less than half of the available budget — roughly $300,000.

The budget accounts for staff fuel, materials, sand, salt, and extra rental equipment.

The residents working for the Iowa City Street Division employees’ hours haven’t suffered. Instead, they have been working on city maintenance not normally possible during the winter.

Brush clearing and street patching — jobs not usually feasible during winter months — are among the latest job duties for the Street Division, instead of the usual early morning snow plowing, Sobaski said.

UI officials have also accessed fewer resources during the past few months — a rare occurrence in Iowa.

Scott Gritsch, the manager of landscape services for UI Facilities Management, said during a typical winter, Facilities Management is called out 26 times for snow removal. They’ve only been called out three times thus far into the winter.

The UI uses roughly 400 tons of salt and 300 tons of sand per winter, but it has only brought in half the sand and salt during the last few months.

Due to the overall lack of snow, UI officials estimate another under-budget year.

“January is usually our big month,” Gritsch said. “I would say we’ll be under what our budget is again this year.”

Despite the UI’s confidence it won’t face much more snowfall, Fosse said more expenditures could be expected in February.

“We can have some pretty significant expenditures in February,” Fosse said. “The 90-day outlook is looking wetter than normal.”


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