DPW braces for impact as salt prices soar

Published Oct 10, 2018 at 4:00pm

The Common Council met with Public Works Commissioner Butch Conover Tuesday night to review his department’s proposed budget for 2019 — a process that will undoubtedly be complicated by a sharp rise in the price of rock salt.

Conover said last night that, that very day, the price of rock salt increased from about $52 per ton to about $64 per ton, a surge of more than 20 percent. He said the city uses between 8,000 and 9,000 tons of rock salt per year — meaning that yesterday’s price jump could raise the city’s salt expenditures by $100,000.

Conover said the price had jumped years ago, but not in such large proportion to its previous cost. He also said the price would very likely remain as is throughout the winter, and that the city need not stockpile in anticipation of further hikes.

The proposed budget was drawn up between August and its Sept. 26 unveiling — well before the price increase — and so more funds will need to be appropriated for snow removal.

City Treasurer David Nolan said the administration is “still debating” how best to handle that. The funds may be taken from another budget line item, he said, though a final decision had yet to be made. Nolan expressed confidence that a solution would be found in time for the budget’s final vote on Oct. 24.

Among other notable line items in the Department of Public Works’ budget is the purchase of $10,000 in materials for a new, galvanized steel wash platform for city trucks, to be built in-house by city workers. The rock salt used on roads in the winter is notoriously hard on vehicles, and the city’s current wash platform doesn’t allow full access to the parts of the vehicle affected, Conover said. The new platform, he argued, could save money in the long term by extending vehicles’ lives.

Also requested by DPW is one computerized Rexroth salt management system, a piece of equipment that releases exactly measured amounts of rock salt onto the road, for $12,000. Non-computerized systems, Conover explained, were inexact. The department will ask for more of the units in coming years, seeking to upgrade its entire fleet either by retrofitting as in this case or by ordering new trucks with the system preinstalled.