Rory Ryan
Rory Ryan
Not wanting to be the one who puts a damper on Mother Nature's good graces in this Winter of our Content, I nonetheless risk incurring her wrath in late February or beyond.

Let's face it, Highland County has not, to this point, had a typical winter. Snowfall has been minimal. Sub-zero temperatures nonexistent. Perhaps we've used an ice scraper on our windshield four or five times since December 1. Simply put, the area highways and byways have been ASG (All Systems Go.)

In light of this unusually tropical southern Ohio winter, a few questions have been passed along to your friendly neighborhood newspaper owner. These questions involve taxpayer-funded budgets and the positive impact a mild winter might have on them.

These questions are directed at local and state governments and their respective budgets for roadway snow and ice removal.

Here are a few of the inquiries (frankly, there was only one submitted question; I made up the rest of them):

• Given that we are, presumably, wrapping up southern Ohio's mildest winter in 50-plus years, what impact will this have on the respective budgets for highway snow and ice maintenance?

• Are the area cities, townships, county engineers and ODOT districts well below budget on overtime, fuel, salt, etc., and, if so, what will be done with the surplus of previously appropriated funds?

• Looking forward, will these budgets be lower, higher or about the same next year?

• Could the previously budgeted funds be used elsewhere to satisfy the age-old adage in government budgeting, that "If we spend less in Year 1, we'll be cut in Year 2, so we must spend all we can in Year 1 to get what we want in Year 2 and beyond."

Whenever I need answers to such questions, I know that Darke County engineer and fellow Whiteoak High School graduate Jim Surber will provide prompt and accurate answers.

Here are the engineer's straightforward responses (if only AEP and PUCO were as forthright):

"The short answer is, of course, expenditures for materials, fuel and overtime have been lessened due to the mildness of the winter. (Of course, it isn't over for another three to four weeks.)

"There is no separate budget for snow and ice removal, only a line item for materials – salt and grit, etc. Labor is in its own line item as well as fuel. Money may be transferred between line items within a given appropriation provided it is approved by the commissioners.

"I estimate our county savings at about $100,000. It is impossible to determine an exact figure because every season is different and prices are always rising. For any county engineer, this will be a real savings, or money that can be applied to additional paving, bridgework, etc. in the upcoming year. The savings may be spent in 2012 or carried forward for future years.

"The money cannot be confiscated by the commissioners since gas tax and license fees can only be used for roads and bridges. Of course, if the commissioners supplement the engineer with other funding, that may be withdrawn.

"I intend to use the additional savings for more road paving which will allow another two miles of asphalt resurfacing. There will be no change in my appropriations (which are already set) for this year and no anticipated increase for next year's. The people's infrastructure will be better off, since money normally spent for the sake of a few days, will be spent to greatly improve about two more miles of road which will last 12-15 years."

"Your 'age-old adage in government budgeting' does not apply to county engineers or township trustees."

A similar answer was provided by the state Department of Transportation and, I suspect, would be offered by local villages, cities and townships.

In other words, the good news is that our mild winter means less tax dollars are being spent on overtime, fuel and material. The bad news is that the apparent seasonal anomaly, while presenting some savings, will not result in any less spending of tax dollars.

Aren't you glad we cleared that up? It was a lot easier than plowing snow – or driving through it – on Folsom Hill. (Thanks to all the ODOT workers who keep Route 247 navigable!)
Only 29 days until spring…

Rory Ryan is glad pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training. He is less enthused about AEP, PUCO and the Ohio lawmakers and their lobbyists who empower them.