Due to above average snowfall, highway superintendents in Groton, Pepperell and Townsend said they had depleted or overspent their snow and ice removal budgets by the end of January.

Pepperell Highway Superintendent Peter Shattuck said his department has already used its $180,000 budget.

"This has been a tough year in a lot of ways," he said. "We had a lot of small storms, dustings or an inch or two, but we have to cover the whole town whether we have a dusting or six inches. With six we might go around a few more times, but it's just as much time. We still have to cover 81 miles of road."

Shattuck said that while his department does normally go over its snow removal budget for the year, it rarely goes over this early in the winter, but is usually able to make it through February.

When a town goes over its budget, the remaining balance is paid for either through a Town Meeting appropriation or through free cash at the end of the fiscal year.

In addition to the financial burden, the winter weather is also making things tough on highway department personnel.

"One of the biggest strains is we don't have enough help," Shattuck said. "Our personnel is down to seven, and we could use more people at the highway department. We laid off two men three or four years ago, and there's no sign of getting them back with the condition of the budget in town."

If a Proposition 2 1/2 override isn't passed this spring and the department is forced to cut its budget by 5 percent for fiscal 2015, another lay off could be coming, Shattuck said.

"There isn't a lot of fluff factor in these budgets," Shattuck said.

Townsend Highway Superintendent Ed Kukkula said his department has overspent its $175,000 snow and ice removal budget by about $60,000 so far.

Although the town normally spends about $250,000 on snow and ice removal, that amount isn't usually allocated in the line-item budget, Kukkula said. Any overages are paid out of remaining funds at the end of the fiscal year.

"It's a tough situation to be in for any municipality, where you're not sure how winter will be so you don't want to put too much aside and not spend it. Most cities and towns keep it lower than what they suspect they'll end up spending," Kukkula said.

The Townsend Highway Department has treated the roads for 20 different storms so far this year, Kukkula said. While his employees are prepared for it, the work can be exhausting.

"The toughest part is when you get storms one right after another where we don't get a chance to recuperate, and the guys don't get a chance to get rested up. It's New England, we know it's going to snow. It's just a matter of how much and how many times a year," Kukkula said.

In Groton, Highway Superintendent Tom Delaney has just $20,000 left in his $340,000 budget, and is expecting to go over before long.

Delaney said that the extreme cold this year means the budget isn't going as far, because salt alone is not very effective at low temperatures.

"When the storms are really cold, you have to use extra material, apply it more often, and use additives," Delaney said.

Delaney, too, says the work has its challenges.

"When it's continuous, it really takes its toll on the guys. We've had a couple of 30-hour days, but as long as you get a good break you bounce back. You get used to it after a while," Delaney said.

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