Late last year the city said it was going to try keeping snow removal costs in check during these rough budget times. Since not even Mayor Daley appears to have any control over the weather, that meant easing up on salting and plowing the side streets.
The strategy was a clear political failure, as evidenced by the outrage it provoked from some of the City Council's Daley guys like Isaac Carothers and Ray Suarez. The city proclaimed it was going back to its old ways, and for now the aldermanic bitching has stopped.
But even in the cost-cutting month of December the winter weather left taxpayers with a hefty tab: in just that month, the city spent more than $8.2 million on 11 "programs," as officials refer to days they mobilize their snow and ice removal teams. That's about $746,000 per bad weather day.
According to figures provided by the Department of Streets and Sanitation, most of that money--$4.6 million--was spent on 118,929 tons of rock salt. Altogether in the last calendar year, the city has paid at least $22.5 million to buy rock salt, with the business going to three private contractors: Morton Salt of Chicago; Detroit Salt of Detroit; and North American Salt of Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
The next largest expense in December was for labor: $2.1 million. Fuel, truck maintenance, and other equipment costs added up to another $1.5 million. But all of the work was done by city employees--so far, according to Streets and San spokesman Matt Smith, the city hasn't used any private contractors for snow or ice cleanup.
If you review the expenditures by date in this chart, you'll notice that they don't obviously relate to weather conditions. For example, the most expensive mobilization, on December 23, cost taxpayers nearly $1.8 million though less than half an inch of snow fell. Smith cautioned against assuming resources shouldn't have been used in these instances, noting that road conditions were often dangerously icy even when there wasn't much precipitation.