Surprises.  We all hate them when it comes to budgets.

Most local units of government have been pulling themselves up by the bootstraps since the impacts of the Great Recession.  But the uncertainty of Mother Nature has thrown many for a frozen loop this year.

How do you budget for snowiest January ever?

Most local units have used 60-70 percent of their road salt half way through the winter, not to mention overtime hours, wear and tear on equipment, water main breaks, and potholes.

And the worst is not over.  Regardless of how much snow we will still get, and no matter how cold it stays, the eventual spring thaw will wreak havoc on the condition of the roads come April showers and May flowers.

So what’s an administrator to do?  Here are six best practices that might make your winter doldrums more palatable.

  1. Monitor your departmental budget monthly to actual expenses so there are no fiscal surprises.
  2. Develop budget recovery plans now, using up to a three-year outlook on where to pull the revenue from.
  3. Communicate with residents before the roads turn to mush.  Let them know that this will be a rough spring when it comes to road conditions, and to use as much caution as possible (and to be patient).
  4. Pool resources (collaborate) with neighboring communities to avoid any overlap in maintenance of lane miles.  If your trucks have to travel over a neighboring community’s road to reach a destination, consider working out a financial arrangement to be able to cover each other’s area and avoid duplication.
  5. If you are not already doing so, consider brine solutions to slow down the consumption of your salt.
  6. Develop an asset management plan so you know ahead of time which roads may be most problematic, and which water mains may be suspect due to age or materials.

At the end of the day, roads and infrastructure maintenance are one of those “must perform” services that any local government has to do regardless of the circumstances.

Munetrix can help you understand where you stand in relation to other local governments’ operating expenditures for your DPW expenditures.  If you see that a peer has a lower operating cost per capita, or other measure, consult with them to find out what they are doing that might help you dial in your services or costs to become more efficient.  We all need to learn from each other, and Munetrix is an enabler in that regard.

Also, use data to tell your story, and make sure you understand what your residents must have, would like to have and could care less about by conducting bi-yearly citizen surveys.  Munetrix can steer you to services that perform these surveys.

In any event, over-communicate and drive the story.

Why? Because nobody likes surprises.

Author: Bob Kittle
Bob Kittle is the President and Co-founder of

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