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Are Kansas Streets Really Clearer Of Snow Than Missouri's? Let's Compare Budgets

Sonia Schlesinger
Trucks delivered more salt to one of Kansas City's three salt domes before the storm on Tuesday.

After numerous rounds of snow and ice, cities across the Kansas City area are struggling to keep their residents happy by clearing the streets of ice and snow and stay within their budget.

Twitter user @PrairieCzar applauded his town’s snow removal process last week: “I can see pavement and the street is cleared curb to curb,” he wrote. “Thank you City of Lenexa!” Meanwhile, Kansas City, Missouri, residents have been frustrated by what they say are clearer roads across the state line.

So what do the numbers say?

Kansas City fell on the high side of what it spends mile for mile, compared with the other cities KCUR spoke with at $2.75 million for snow removal, or $430 per lane mile. Lenexa spends even more per mile—$538—as residents continue to praise its plows.

But other cities spend less per mile. In Prairie Village, dollars per lane comes to $349. Wyandotte County and Olathe both fall on the lower side, $229 and $185.

Kansas City officials say the city faces challenges that nearby suburbs do not. Many streets in the city are narrower, and residents tend to park on the street more often. But its snow removal budget is about average compared with towns across the border.

Overtime—not salt—is the dealbreaker

The snow removal budget goes almost entirely to pay for salt and other ice-melting chemicals, such as liquid calcium or magnesium chloride. City governments tend not to run low on salt in extreme weather years like this one, but that is balanced out by milder winters when they stockpile surplus salt.

The bigger concern for cities on both sides of the state line is overtime. Kansas City spokesman Chris Hernandez pointed out Tuesday that snow crews had been working twelve-hour shifts since the weekend’s storm. Many of the storms have fallen on weekends, so overtime costs are even higher than in other years.

Olathe budgets $300,000 for year-round overtime costs for its public works department, the majority of that will go to snow and ice removal each winter. But the city has already spent 72% of its overtime budget, the highest amount spent by mid-February since 2015.

Olathe spokesman Zach Hardy says the effects of this winter may stretch into the summer months. “This may be a case where we don’t get additional money, and we just have to look at not having overtime in the summer months, which may limit what we can do in terms of street work and that sort of thing,” he said.

In the meantime, the cities say they are trying their best. “We have 6,400 lane miles across the city of Kansas City Missouri and 200 plows to tackle that the best we can,” Hernandez said.

Sonia Schlesinger is an intern at KCUR 89.3. Reach her at sonia@kcur.org or follow her on Twitter @soniaschlesi.

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