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Minimal snow last winter leaves Highway Department extra money — for now

After a winter season that produced below-average snow totals, the highway departments in both Riverhead and Southold saved money on snow removal costs. But the highway superintendents aren’t celebrating just yet.

The fiscal year for both towns is the same as the calendar year, which means they still have to get through November and December before they know how well their snow removal budgets did.

“We did save a good amount of money on snow removal this year, but the year’s not over,” said Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson. “We still have to go to Jan. 1.”

He said it seems like every 10 years or so that the town makes it through the year without having to do a lot of snow removal.

Southold Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando said when the end of December rolls around, it may be possible to use savings to purchase something such as a small truck. Otherwise, he says, “leave those snow budget lines alone, and hope that November and December are quiet.”

Mr. Orlando estimates he spent about 62 percent of his snow budget so far in 2019, whereas in 2018, when there was a lot of snow, particularly in March, he spent 90 percent of his snow budget. 

Riverhead’s snow removal budget for 2019 is $275,000 and Southold’s is $426,500. (Neither Mr. Woodson nor Mr. Orlando could explain why Southold’s snow removal budget is larger.)

Both superintendents said that if they make it through the fiscal year and still have snow removal funds left over, the remainder can be put in a highway fund balance, where it usually can then be used on other items.

“The rest goes into a fund balance, which I can use for whatever I’m lacking, it could be paving or equipment,” Mr. Woodson said.

“You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Mr. Orlando said. “In my five years as superintendent, we’ve had two major hurricanes on Jan. 2.”

The East End’s sparse snow totals from November to March weren’t necessarily reflected in the National Weather Service’s statistics. The NWS’s closest weather stations are in Upton (Brookhaven National Lab) and MacArthur Airport in Islip.

From Nov. 1 to March 31, there was 15.1 inches of snow at Upton and 12.8 inches of snow at MacArthur, according to Joe Pollina of the NWS. By comparison, Upton averaged 48 inches of snow per year from 2009-10 to 2017-18.

There is no specific weather station in Riverhead or posts east other than weather volunteers, and there were no past weather counts for those sites on the NWS website.

A Baiting Hollow site on the NWS website gathered 16.4 inches of snow from Nov. 1 to March 31.

For the same months in 2016-17 and 2017-18, those Baiting Hollow totals were 42.7 and 47.2 inches, respectively.

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