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N. UTAHNS NOW DIGGING OUT FROM AN AVALANCHE OF BILLS

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Northern Utahns have cleared away most of the record-breaking snowfall of the past three weeks, but they may be digging out from under the bills for months to come.Although the costs are still being tabulated and expenses continue to mount, reports from affected communities show the January storms took at least a $12 million toll in snow-removal costs alone.

Damage to public and private property could raise that figure by several million dollars, according to emergency operations officials. As of Tuesday, Salt Lake County had received 250 calls to its damage hotline.

"The calls have covered everything from simple leaks in roofs to actual collapses," said Fire Chief Larry Hinman, who has headed the county's emergency response. "We've added up $141,000 in damage to private property, but we think it will easily exceed $1 million by the time we're through."

The damage includes collapsed roofs on five homes, two apartment buildings, a state wine store, two schools, a Salt Lake library, three industrial buildings, two warehouses and more than a dozen garages and carports.

Also, more than a dozen people have been injured while removing snow from roofs or cleaning out snow blower chutes. And police logs show hundreds of automobile accidents linked to the storms.

"One thing we're finding is that people here haven't ever looked at snowstorms as an emergency or disaster situation," Hinman said. "That's changing. We're seeing that snow can be as much of a disaster as an earthquake or a flood."

The Utah Department of Transportation's budget has been the hardest hit, dropping an estimated $8 million into road-clearing efforts so far. UDOT spokesman Kim Morris said the estimate includes overtime pay for crews, equipment rental, salt, equipment replacement parts, repairs, fuel, "the works."

"Yes, it hit the budget hard, but snow removal is our number one priority at this time of year," Morris said. "As long as it keeps snowing, we'll keep plowing, and we'll take care of the budget later on."

Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City have each spent about $1 million on snow removal, which is twice as much as they normally spend during an entire winter. Of the city's $1 million, $451,000 was spent at the Salt Lake International Airport, said finance director Roger Black.

The collapsed roof at the city's Chapman Library, 577 S. 900 West, caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the building and $50,000 in lost materials, said library spokeswoman Colleen McLaugh-lin.

Hinman said the county's snow bill will be closer to $3 million when all related expenses are added up. "We've incurred costs across the board, for things like overtime pay, protecting public buildings, providing additional services - it has affected almost every department."

Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said the county has already started to economize in order to pay the bill. "Between now and the end of the year, we will cover the shortfall," he said, promising that a tax increase "won't even be considered."

According to Horiuchi, the county can come up with the money by postponing some capital improvement projects. Scheduled road repairs are not likely to be put off, he said, "because that's just false economy."

However, many smaller local governments that don't have the breathing room of a $300 million budget may be forced to reduce road work this summer to pay their winter bills.

"Our maintenance and construction work could be severely curtailed," said Davis County Public Works Director Sid Smith. The county budgeted $22,000 for snow removal for the entire year, but it has already spent more than $60,000.

Bountiful, which has recorded some of the heaviest snowfalls in the state, has exceeded its snow removal budget by 50 percent, spending about $215,000 to keep roads clear. City engineer John Balling said $75,000 has been allocated from a contingency fund to cover the costs.

West Valley City has spent more than $30,000 on road salt alone, exceeding projections by $18,000. Public Works Director Russ Wil-lard-son said other expenses have yet to be tallied, but he expects a severe blow to the budget.

Despite $149,451 in snow removal bills, Sandy has managed to stay within its budget. "None of that was routine expenditures," said city streets manager John Larsen. "Another storm or two, and we will be over our budget."

Murray Fire Chief Wendell D. Coombs said his city's $76,156 snow removal bill doesn't include regular payroll costs. "It looks like we may be able to absorb the costs, unless the snows continue."

The State Comprehensive Emergency Management Agency has tallied $5 million in costs that may be eligible for federal aid, said agency spokeswoman Kim Williams. She explained that the state's emergency declaration covered only some of the snow removal costs. Most of the property damage probably won't qualify for federal financial assistance, she said.