Mild winter saving some money, costing others

MILLERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — As the month of February begins, the Midstate is still waiting for a significant, measurable snowfall.

“So far, since we didn’t have to deal with 30 inches of snow at one time, it hasn’t been bad,” said Ron Hepner, a supervisor in Upper Paxton Township, Dauphin County. “We did have an ice storm that made things pretty slick one morning, but we’ve been fortunate.”

As a result, Hepner is looking at a possible surplus of road salt this season. While a repeat of last year’s blizzard could still happen in 2017, if the weather remains mild enough that the township does not require its full order of approximately 250 tons of salt, its contract allows the order to be cut off after receiving at least 60 percent.

Hepner says it is likely that even under the mild weather scenario, the township would still want to receive its full order of salt. While the locked-in price for this season is around $65 per ton, that price could go up next year and the township would still realize savings that could be used for other projects.

“We have a lot of roads that pot holes are really starting to pop up,” Hepner said. “We’re already receiving complaints.”

Just a few miles away at Millersburg Hardware Company, a surplus of salt and bagged ice melt is not seen as a good thing.

“We have way more supply and not enough demand,” Thomas Long said. “People just aren’t looking for salt, shovels and ice scrapers right now because they don’t need them.”

Long says his family-owned business stocks winter specific items every year including shovels, salt spreaders and sleds, knowing they risk carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory over to the following winter. Last year, the January blizzard that dumped up to three feet of snow on the Midstate had customers scrambling to buy “everything we had. It was a crazy day,” joked Long, saying inclement weather has proven to be good for business.

“I wouldn’t necessarily want a ton of blizzards,” he added. “We don’t want a lot of bad weather, but a couple of good snows and something like that would be nice. We have to move some of these items from the shelves.”

Long says while a good forecast of more than a few days gives his business time to order more supplies if high demand is anticipated, a quick moving storm with snow accumulation or ice could catch a small business unprepared.

“We need turnover in order to order more product,” he said. “Turnover is a big part of the business and some of these items have been sitting here a while. We need to move this off the shelf before we bring too much more in.”

For Hepner, the prospect of the township seeing a large windfall of cash resulting from the mild winter is unrealistic. Still, he says every day that plow drivers are not out treating Upper Paxton’s roughly 50 miles of roadway, taxpayers are saving money.

“The guys are going to be paid the same no matter what they’re doing, driving trucks or not,” he said,  “but if we don’t have to be running around salting and plowing, we will save money on overtime and fuel.”

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