The county has had to buy more salt for county roads than anticipated in their budget, so they will have to find or transfer more funding to cover it. With record levels of snowfall so far this year, the county said as of last week that it has already spent more than the $170,000 it has set aside for the year, and may soon exceed $280,000 in salt purchases even with another month of winter left.
At the Feb. 10 county freeholders’ caucus meeting, the county administrator asked for a 20 percent increase over the $170,000 in order to buy more. But even that may not be enough.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea noted that the county had spent about $126,000 on salt in just one week, and still didn’t have enough salt for future storms.
Harold Demellier, director of the Department of Roads and Public Property, said that an emergency declaration had already been made to allow the county to make more salt purchases. But that department is close to running out of cash for salt while other shipments are on their way, he said.
The state requires the county to report any increase over 20 percent as a matter of checks and balances, which was why the initial request was for a 20 percent increase, said County Attorney Donato Batista.
For the last 10 days, the salt situation was handled under a declaration of emergency, allowing the county to make purchases prior to authorization from the freeholders.
Demellier said the county may even be ordering more than it actually needs, but this will allow it to assist municipalities and others who might not be able to get enough salt.
“I think we could have a smaller storage space for salt in Lincoln Park.” – Bill O’Dea
Currently the county has only one location for salt on Duncan Avenue in Jersey City near Route 1 & 9. O’Dea recommended other sites in north and south Hudson County, and possibly smaller storage facilities for use in county parks such as Lincoln Park.
“I think we could have a smaller storage space for salt in Lincoln Park,” O’Dea said.
Price gouging on retail salt?
In somewhat related matter, O’Dea has called on the county office of Consumer Affairs to investigate complains of price gouging for rock salt in local stores.
As an example, he said a local hardware store charged $7 last week for a 50-pound bag, and this week, the same bag at the same store sold for $12.
“Another concern is that several chain stores are either out of it or not selling it to the normal consumer customer,” O’Dea said. “Instead they are selling only to business/corporate customers. If true, is that legal?”
O’Dea is asking for a report from the office of Consumer Affairs to determine if the rise in cost for salt is a result of wholesaler increasing their prices or if shipments of salt have been reduced to retailers.
Several local activists in Jersey City complained about the cost increase of retail snow salt and the shortage, saying that the problem had the biggest impact in small neighborhoods, where many people shop at local stores. O’Dea said he is concerned about small stores being shortchanged from wholesalers in favor of the chain stores, which many poor people can’t reach.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.