STERLING – While many counties around the state are scrambling to find road salt in light of the shortage caused by last winter’s harsh weather, most of the Sauk Valley does at least have a winter supply confirmed.
Carroll, Whiteside, Ogle, and Lee counties went through the state’s Department of Central Management Services to get road salt; all were able to obtain contracts except Lee County, which held a special board meeting Friday to vote on what approach to take to get its supply.
Members decided to grant County Engineer Dave Anderson the authority to buy salt in whatever way he could. Lee County is one of 195 communities in the state facing this problem – about one-third of the entities that applied through the state for bids.
While Carroll and Whiteside counties have salt supplies secured, the question of how much damage it’s going to do to their budgets won’t be answered until they receive word from the state about which company will providing. Road salt cost each county less than $60 a ton last year, but estimates for this year have prices ranging from $70 to $140 a ton.
Carroll County Engineer Kevin Vandendooren and Whiteside County Engineer Russ Renner both said it would be a matter of adjusting their budgets, and the amount they usually order, to compensate for the price increase. Unfortunately, preliminary reports are forecasting that this winter will be only slightly better than the last.
Carroll County usually orders about 1,400 tons of salt, Whiteside County about 3,000.
Ogle County, in comparison, is sitting pretty.
Ogle County Engineer Curtis Cook was nervous about the reported price increase, too – until he checked the county’s contract from last year and saw that its supplier had agreed to an extension, which secured the county’s price per ton at no more than 5 percent more than what it spent last year.
“Some years you have the opportunity to extend last year’s contract,” Cook said. “It’s kind of like playing the futures market; you don’t know if the prices are going to go up or down, so you make the best guesstimate.”
The explanation for the price increase lies in the law of supply and demand. A bad winter means more salt, which means there’s less to go around the next winter. The same spike in pricing happened after the winter of 2007-08, said Mike Claffey, with the state’s Central Management Services.
“That was another historic winter, in terms of snow and ice, so everybody went through the salt,” Claffey said during an interview last week. “As a result, the prices jumped.”
Bureau County Engineer John Gross could not be reached for comment.