As the temperature goes down, salt spending skyrockets

Amanda Luevano

As things get icier, Evanston’s budget gets tighter. It’s simple supply and demand.

That’s the explanation that Richard Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute in Alexandria, Va., gave for the estimated 250 percent increase in salt prices facing Evanston and many other communities across the nation.

“There was a very heavy winter last season, so many cities experienced shortages,” he said. “What happened after that was public officials started scrambling around to replenish their reserves for next year.”

The pressure on the overall salt supply has forced companies to drastically raise their prices, Hanneman said.

In early September, the Evanston City Council approved the purchase of 6,660 tons of salt from Morton Salt, an increase from the 5,500 tons purchased before last winter. The city paid $104.40 per ton this year, compared to last year’s $40 per ton.

“We’re very fortunate that we have had a long relationship with Morton, because these prices are by and large the best I have seen,” said Public Works Director John Burke.

According to the Salt Institute, a non-profit trade association, Illinois has upped this year’s salt supply from 1.4 to 1.8 million tons. Wisconsin and Michigan have also made huge increases, upping their supplies by 351,000 and 279,000 tons, respectively.

At the first budget workshop on Oct. 6, Finance Director Martin Lyons addressed the impact that the nearly $470,000 increase would have on the general fund.

“If the economy wasn’t bad enough, we have been hit with this salt issue which is a large expenditure for the city,” he said.

Although he reported that the increase in salt prices was a major concern going into budget season, Lyons said that the problem is not exclusive to Evanston. “Other communities are strapped just like us,” he said.

The steep increase in the amount of salt purchased was necessary for both preparedness and recovery, Burke explained. Last year’s brutal winter forced the city to order an extra 2,500 tons after the reserve was exhausted. The shortage created dangerous conditions in the city, as the Division of Streets and Sanitation salted only major roads while using a mixture of sand and deicer on others.

Now, Burke says, the city must replenish its supply, which is not typically depleted by the end of the season.

“You don’t ever expect it to be the fourth snowiest winter in history,” he said. “I think we have taken the appropriate steps and are in a solid position for next year in terms of quantity and preparedness.”

Like Burke, city officials across the county have felt pressure to be on top of their game for next winter, Hanneman said. He referenced former Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic, who is now infamous for his handling of the 1979 blizzard that brought nearly 20 inches of snow.

The city, which was buried in over 40 inches of accumulated snow by the end of January, came to a virtual standstill after public officials failed to effectively clear the streets and elevated railways. Bilandic was blamed for the city’s poor response to the storm and subsequently lost the Democratic primary.

“When there are record snowfalls and barely enough salt, it looks like officials don’t know what they are doing,” Burke said. “That’s why we saw the scramble. No one wants to be the next Michael Bilandic.”

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