With snow showers and icy roads around southeastern Wisconsin and Waukesha the norm this winter season, salt supplies for local municipalities are running thin.
The city and county recently announced that they will soon have to tap into additional accounts to receive more salt for the rest of the winter.
The Town of Waukesha is no exception.
Town of Waukesha Chairman John Marek said late last week the town has used all of its allocation, 1,975 tons, for the 2013-14 winter season. As a result, Marek said the town has been able to obtain 500 additional tons and will mix it in a 1:1 ration with sand at Wolf Paving, the company the town uses for snowplowing and salting.
But due to the shortage, Marek said the town will follow recent policies set by some of its neighboring communities and will only salt intersections, hills and curves the rest of the season.
"There's no end in sight of salt becoming more available," Marek said at the last Town Board meeting.
While not ideal, Marek doesn't see this as a major issue.
"I don't think so," he said when asked if it could become problematic if another big snowstorm hits. "If you go back to 2007 and 2008 almost every municipality only did intersections. We were doing salt and sand then so that's nothing new for us. In the Town of Waukesha it will be a little messier in the spring but we'll get street sweepers in to clean it up."
The cost of the extra salt is $73 a ton, about $20 more per ton than the town initially spent on its contract for salt. Marek said with the current rate of salt $125 a ton, he's happy that the town purchased this additional salt supply a couple weeks ago.
"I'm glad we stuck our neck out there to get the price down," Marek said. "As the supply continues to dwindle the price goes up. A few years ago it increased to 200 bucks (a ton)."
The cost to mix the salt with sand will cost $44 a ton, Marek said.
Marek said despite the town requesting more salt, the town has enough funding to support it.
"We're still within budget," Marek said. "Depending on what happens the rest of the winter, it looks like we will probably have to do a budget amendment and account for that but we're still well within the budget."
At last week's meeting, Marek said he would prefer if Wolf Paving salts less than it currently does.
At the request of Supervisor Larry Wolf, a stipulation was put in place that said the town could apply salt to other areas if there is a significant snowstorm.
"If we have a major snowfall I don't think just salting intersections are going to work," he said.
Marek said when the town buys its salt for the season, which is November through April, it is required to take 80 percent of what it reserves.
"Some years we're not going to take all of what you reserve," said Marek, adding that the town only used about 1,900 tons last winter.
The Town of Waukesha keeps its salt supply at Wolf Paving in Dousman, about 15 miles away from the town.
Marek has tried to get the town's salt supply closer to town limits at the site where the county houses its salt. He said the county is "ready and willing" to have the town store salt there. But the board has voted down his requests, he said.
"We could have and still could have it there if the board changes their mind," Marek said. "It would be 45 seconds outside of town boundaries."
Marek said it's "crazy" that the town uses a facility that isn't closer.
"It creates a problem when you have inclement weather and you store salt that far away," Marek said. "When you have an ice storm and have to go back and reload that's a three-plus hour trip off town roads."
The Town of Waukesha has used Wolf Paving for the past two winters. Maple Creek Landscaping & Snow Services served the town for one winter season from 2011-12.
Before that, the Town of Waukesha had a long-standing relationship with Eric S. Jacobson Grading Co. It used the local snowplowing contractor for more than 25 years but it ended messy when the Town of Waukesha and Jacobson went to the courts over the firm's contract terms and performance during the winter of 2010-11. The town filed a lawsuit against Jacobson's company, while Jacobson filed a counterclaim.
A year later, the Waukesha Town Board agreed to a settlement to pay Jacobson almost $300,000. Jacobson had been seeking $355,000.
"What we did to Jacobson is reprehensible," Marek said, who wasn't on the board at the time.
Marek assured safety is still the top concern, despite having less salt at the town's disposal.
"The Town of Waukesha will continue to maintain reasonable safety throughout the remainder of the winter season," Marek said.