from the editor of today's paper:
The annual panic about deficits in snow plowing budgets is now in full cry. With winter barely half over and presumably more snow yet to fall, every community in the region has overspent its snow removal budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars and is pleading for help from the state and federal governments to cover those deficits.This winter, they have some justification for those pleas. Snowfall is already closing in on double the average for a winter season.But the truth is snow removal budgets are an annual exercise in deception. Most communities routinely underfund these accounts in order to have more money to spend elsewhere, because it is the one budget allowed to go into deficit. Local officials also figure that, if things get bad enough, the state will bail them out.But this year the state is facing its own budget deficit, and impending cuts in other areas already have advocates of those programs screaming.Local officials should not be expected to predict exactly what snow removal expenses will be in a given year. But that legitimate reason for deficit spending has been bent beyond all reason by too many communities. Cities and towns were showered with federal stimulus money over the past 18 months and could have set some of it aside for emergencies just like this one. Instead, far too many used the money to maintain the status quo.The way to deal with snow removal deficits is to end the fantasy and require that they bear some resemblance to reality. They should be at least 90 percent of a community's average actual spending over the previous five years.Until that happens, exhausted snow budgets should not surprise anyone. That was the plan.