As Snow Piles Up at a Record Pace, Cleanup Sends City Budgets Adrift in New England, the Winter of '94 Brings Deficits and Salt Shortages

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NEW England cities and towns are straining local budgets as they try to keep abreast of an increasing pileup of winter snow.

In the wake of Friday's storm, communities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are struggling to cope with yet another mountain of white stuff.

And cities and towns in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are likewise trying to stay on top of the continuing snowfall and cold weather.

Meteorologists says this winter is already the seventh snowiest on record in the Boston area since data was first recorded on a continuous basis in 1871. And the abundance of snow has kept public-works crews busy plowing, salting, sanding, and scraping. As a result, many communities - which are already operating on strained local budgets - must dig deeper into their reserves to dig out of the snow.

In Massachusetts, many localities are barely getting by as a result of reduced state aid, and snow-removal costs are straining them even further.

According to Peter Ajemian, spokesman for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, most of the Bay State's 40 cities are operating on a deficit or close to one for snow and ice accounts. In fact, the cost for snow removal for all 351 Bay State communities by winter's end could run up to $50 million, Mr. Ajemian says.

Bay State cities have requested an additional $20 million from the state to make up for their loss this winter. And Gov. William Weld (R) said Friday he will ask the state legislature for emergency municipal aid.

"It has been a devastating winter so far, and the impact has been enormous on snow budgets," Ajemian says. "If there are a few more storms, the deficits are just going to grow."

In Vermont, communities aren't having an easy time either. In Burlington, the state's largest city, the snow-removal policy meant that streets and sidewalks were cleared completely. Now the city has relaxed its policy, due to previous budget cuts. That means that side streets go unsalted, and fewer sidewalks will be plowed.

But the big budget-buster for Burlington has been water-main breaks. So far, the city has had 15 to 20 breaks, and another 45 to 50 breaks in water pipes that connect to households. …