What a difference a winter makes.
Last year, the seemingly never-ending snowfall drained Washington County’s fuel and salt budgets as crews fought to keep roads safe.
The season’s combined costs of diesel fuel, road salt and snowplow driver overtime ran to $1.696 million — the highest in five years.
But this year? No problem.
“We had this lull in late December and all of January, and so we’re back right on track with our salt, and our overtime for that matter. It’s looking great,” said County Engineer Wayne Sandberg.
About 25 percent less fuel was used this season, he said.
Since the first snowfall on Oct. 14, county snowplows have dispensed salt 28 times, compared with 37 times a year ago. The 6,322 tons of salt used this year cost $372,998 — a reduction of 36 percent from last year.
In a typical season, the county uses 8,000 to 10,000 tons of salt. The current price per ton is $59.
The county manages fluctuating fuel costs — gasoline for Sheriff’s Office cruisers and diesel for big trucks — through a consortium of about 20 government agencies.
That means the county buys most of its fuel at a fixed cost, hedging against unexpected price increases.
In previous years, the fixed price saved anywhere from 4 cents to 41 cents a gallon off the regular price of gasoline, Sandberg said.
Each year, the county’s Public Works Department budgets for 55,000 gallons of gasoline and 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The Sheriff’s Office uses 125,000 gallons of gasoline.
For 2015, gasoline will cost $2.37 a gallon and diesel fuel, $2.82 a gallon, regardless of fluctuations at the pump.
A year ago, Sandberg hoped the salt stockpile would outlast the siege of snowfalls. Not now.
“We didn’t have the snowfall we initially expected and our budgets reflect that,” he said. “Our snow season isn’t over yet — in Minnesota we don’t relax until the end of May — but we all are hoping that the worst of winter is over.”