salt pile

Tons of road salt sit at the Hermitage Municipal Building ready for the upcoming winter. Sharon has 400 tons of road salt on hand.

Nobody knows for sure how cold and snowy our next winter will be.

What is certain is that road salt prices are up by 15 percent for the snow-plowing season that lies ahead.

Mercer County communities buy their road salt under COSTARS, the statewide purchasing program coordinated by the state Department of General Services. The contract with Morton Salt is the source of supply for PennDOT and all local communities, said Jim Carroll, spokesman for PennDOT District 1 in Franklin.

Rates vary county by county in the northwest Pennsylvania district but for Mercer County municipalities road salt will cost $55.70 a ton, up from $48.37.

“Prices in the district range from $54.23 a ton for Erie County to a high of $66.37 for Forest County,” Carroll said. “Mercer County looks like it’s right about in the middle.”

John Cave, Sharon’s street department foreman, said the 15 percent increase is a concern for the cash-strapped city.

“We’re on a tight budget and any increase is a big deal,” he said. “We just don’t know how much snow we’re going to get.”

Sharon crews spread about 3,800 tons of salt last year and have about 400 tons in stock waiting for that inevitable day when snow begins to fall. Salting season began Nov. 20 last year for the city department and wound up April 16, Cave said.

He expects to place an order in late October or early November. For now, crews are concentrating on cutting grass and filling potholes.

“We try to hold off on ordering as long as we can but we want to get the dome full,” Cave said. “It can be hard to get salt delivered in the winter. Last year, we had to wait about 2 1/2 weeks for one order.”

For a time, crews had to limit salting to the city’s hills and intersections.

“Citizens don’t always understand that some streets might not get salted because we have to concentrate on the hills when we’re short,” he said. “But we always try to plow the streets and salt the intersections.”

PennDOT uses antiskid when temperatures dip below 20 degrees, but the city doesn’t.

“We use straight salt, Cave said. “Antiskid lays on the street. It plugs sewers and it’s hard on our equipment.”

He added that the city is looking for additional drivers with commercial driver’s licenses for its six large plows that spread salt.

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