The holiday winter storm could prove costly for the Twin Cities metro area, as city officials expect to spend additional money on overtime and holiday pay for snow plow drivers and other staff.
The city of St. Paul's Public Works department budgets about $500,000 for an average snow emergency. The timing of this storm could add an additional $250,000 in expenses, including holiday pay, according to the city's street maintenance engineer Kevin Nelson.
"Having it come on a holiday does hurt us cost-wise," Nelson said.
The city budgets for four snow emergencies in a calendar year. This year those funds have already been exhausted, as the city declared three snow emergencies in early 2009 and one in early December.
As a result, the city will have to use reserve money and possibly dip into next year's funds to clear the streets, Nelson said.
In Minneapolis, holiday and overtime pay could push the costs of snow removal over the $500,000 average, but officials say the extra expenses will be under $250,000.
"We know that we may be pushing the edge here, so we'll try to take whatever steps we can to reduce our costs without affecting public safety," said Mike Kennedy, director of transportation maintenance and repair for the Minneapolis Department of Public Works.
But despite the added cost, Kennedy said that "in the big picture, it doesn't really mean a whole lot," since the major expenses, including equipment and base salaries, are already included in the regular budget.
Minneapolis and St. Paul each have about 80 snow plows, although St. Paul also uses private contractors for cul-de-sacs and dead end streets.
Kennedy said if a snow emergency is declared, parking restrictions will be in effect and cars violating the rules will be towed despite the holiday. Kennedy acknowledged the snow emergency could come as a surprise to visitors.
"We realize there's lots of new people coming into town. Quite frankly we have to rely on families and friends to tell these folks that are visiting [to] be mindful of where your car is," he said.
For those leaving town, it's best to take cars off the street or give keys to a friend, Kennedy said.
At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, officials said holiday pay for snow plow drivers will add up quickly. The airport houses the drivers in bunk beds at the facility during severe storms to make sure the runways stay clear. Some workers will be paid double time-and-a-half for working Christmas Day.
"This enables us to have people sleep for an amount of time to get some rest, but then get back out on the plows," said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. "So it really makes the most efficient use of the resources that we have."