BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS An icy swath of snow still lays claim to a patch of Sixth Street on the East Side of Jim Thorpe.
Local communities are still shoveling, plowing and piling snow from the Feb. 10 storm, and most won't know the final cost of the cleanup for at least a couple of weeks.
But help is on the way.
The state Department of Transportation is releasing $308 million in liquid fuels payments on March 1 - about a month early - so local governments can pay the cleanup costs.
"Through a disaster emergency proclamation I issued Feb. 6, PennDOT is able to deliver needed liquid fuels payments a full month ahead of schedule to immediately assist local governments with the costs incurred this winter," Gov. Ed Rendell said Friday. "This winter has placed significant demands on the resources of both PennDOT and its partners in local government. The early release of these funds will help local governments to pay some bills a little bit earlier," Rendell said.
Liquid fuels allocations are annual payments issued to municipalities to help pay for transportation-related expenses, including snow removal and related materials costs. The last time advance payment of liquid fuels funds was made was in 2003 when $257 million was released on March 14 as a result of a similar statewide snow emergency. The funds are generated from a portion of the state gasoline tax and from Act 44.
Carbon County communities are in line for $1,593,411.65, ranging from a high of $186,931.04 for Towamensing Township to a low of $5,254.50 for East Side Borough.
The early release of the funds was good news for Lansford Borough Council President Bob Gaughan. His town will receive $81,365.92.
"Harrisburg has really awakened to the dilemma that most of the small communities in Pennsylvania are in. The early release of those funds absolutely helps with some of the budgetary juggling that we would need to do for that month," he said. "Kudos need to be given to the governor and the folks in Harrisburg for their decision to release the funds early."
Even though small mountains of snow from the last storm still line streets of most communities, the season isn't over yet.
"We're still sitting pretty much in the middle of winter at this point," Gaughan said. "There could be another two or three events that could put us in a world of hurt."
But the early release of liquid fuels money will help the cleanup go faster and put communities in a better position to handle any future storms, he said.
"If we get another 20-24-inch snow event, we'll actually be able to deal with it in a much more efficient manner," Gaughan said. He praised the efforts of road crews across the county for their efforts.
"Not only my own road crew, but all of them, did an exemplary job of dealing with what I would call a crisis," he said. "All of the area municipalities did a super job."
But using the lion's share of the liquid fuels allocation for snow cleanup from this last storm could be a double-edged sword, cautioned Carbon County commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.
"Unfortunately, tough economic times have hit government entities hard too, to the point that some municipalities are struggling to meet expenses, just like families are within their own homes," he said.
"So, in that respect, receiving liquid fuels monies early, I am sure, will help councils and boards of supervisors to meet unexpected expenses that have gone to skyrocketing levels because of the difficult winter season we are experiencing. I applaud the state and transportation department because I'm sure the funds will be very helpful to these municipalities. Otherwise, I would think some municipalities would have to borrow money to pay these bills because tax revenues for 2010 have not arrived," said O'Gurek.
"But while the funding will be helpful, the other side of the coin is the fact that these funds are often utilized for street and road repairs, so what is spent on snow cleanup will only be less that the municipalities will have for other uses," O'Gurek said. "As far as the county, we don't own roads. We were able to absorb cleanup costs from the General Fund, so our Liquid Fuels funds will be used to maintain the bridges owned by the county."