Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Baker City has added considerable muscle to its snowplowing physique as winter nears.

But Michelle Owen would prefer the city avoid having to flex its newfound abilities too often.

Last winter’s frequent snowstorms and prolonged subfreezing temperatures taxed not only the city’s public works department staff, which Owen oversees, but also its budget.

The city ended up shelling out about $340,000 to plow, salt and sand streets and to haul snow to several dump sites to prevent streets from resembling bobsled runs.

The city had allocated $92,000.

“Last year was an all-hands-on-deck thing with as much snow as we had,” said Tom Fisk, the public works department’s operations supervisor.

Last winter the city had spent its entire snow removal budget before December was over.

During the first two months of 2017, as snow continued to fall, the City Council transferred the entire $100,000 contingency from the street fund, and later another $150,000 from that fund’s unappropriated balance, to snow removal.

Owen said the main change she made to this year’s budget was to boost the contingency from $100,000 to $150,000.

She chose that option, as opposed to increasing the snow removal fund itself, to preserve financial flexibility.

Money allocated to snow removal can be used only for that purpose. The contingency dollars, by contrast, can be used anywhere in the street fund, which includes preventive maintenance and other related functions.

That’s why the city was able to use the contingency last winter for snowplowing.

Owen said she typically makes only small adjustments each year to the snow removal budget, mainly to account for inflation.

This fiscal year, for instance, the snow removal budget is $97,000, an increase of $5,000 from last year.

As for equipment, the city bought a backhoe earlier this year which brings the city’s fleet of those useful machines to five for this winter, Owen said.

In addition, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which partners with the city, has assured city officials that ODOT will have a grader available for the city to use this winter in clearing sections of city streets that are also state highways. Examples include parts of Main, Broadway, 10th and Campbell streets.

The city also has its own grader, and it has arranged to rent a second grader during January if necessary, Owen said.

See more in the Nov. 13, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.