Officials face sticker shock on salt

LISBON -Communities in Columbiana County are taking some time to decide if they want to pay a higher cost for road salt this winter, with the latest cost nearly triple what they paid last year.

The City of Columbiana, and Fairfield and Perry townships have all expressed concern over the $102.70 per ton price provided by Central Salt LLC, and so far Perry Township is the only community on record rejecting that cost, opting to go elsewhere for the material.

Perry trustees made the decision on Monday, with Fiscal Officer Susan Johnston saying it was too much for their budget.

Trustee Chairman Cliff Mix said they were looking at several other options and with 100 tons already on hand the township should be in good shape for a couple snowfalls.

Meanwhile, Fairfield Township trustees, while not pleased with the price, decided on Thursday it would contract with ODOT for the material, although for a reduced tonnage than previous years.

Communities throughout the state are provided the opportunity each year to enter a 12-month contract with ODOT for salt it purchases from companies at a lower cost due to buying in bulk. Prices are set on a bidding basis, with the lowest bid from the salt supplier typically accepted, and that cost is then picked up by the contracting community.

The state contract requires a minimum order based on the amount of stockpile capacity each community has available. The minimum is 90 percent of the total storage and maximum is 110 percent, according to a sample agreement provided on the ODOT web site.

The salt is provided by the supplier, with ODOT’s only involvement being the generally reduced cost through the contract.

Fairfield Township purchased 200 tons last week instead of the roughly 300 tons it typically uses because of the higher cost. Last year the township used 335 tons.

Two of the biggest salt companies, Cargill and Morton, did not bid on Columbiana County’s salt for winter use.

Fairfield Township Trustee Barry Miner, a former ODOT supervisor, said it was the first time in 32 years that they didn’t bid.

Morton did provide a bid for the summer salt contract, however, and that price was $54 per ton, which Columbiana took advantage of, to the tune of 200 tons, but more is needed.

The city purchases about 600 tons each year for the winter, and City Manager Lance Willard said they would likely be ordering that amount this year as well.

“We are going to tell ODOT that this is cost-prohibitive … it is a definite concern. We can’t lower our bid amount because we need 600 tons,” he said.

Last year the city paid roughly $37 per ton for winter salt.

“A lot of counties can’t get salt right now. They are hurting too,” Willard said.

Columbiana Finance Director Mike Harold explained the city can’t purchase the full amount during the summer because there isn’t enough storage space.

The city places orders as needed during the winter months.

Harold speculated the high prices could be due to the shortage that took place earlier this year when more snow fell than anticipated and suppliers were called on to provide large quantities on short notice, resulting in high prices due to demand.

Willard notified ODOT on Friday they wished to have the material rebid.

Fairfield Township Road Supervisor Mel Miller said some municipalities are looking at other options and that he would contact ODOT to share their concerns.

Some of those options, according to Trustee Chairman Bob Hum, are a liquid solution used by the Ohio Turnpike, or a calcium-chloride blend.

A call to ODOT’s District 11 office in New Philadelphia was referred to the ODOT press secretary in Columbus, Steve Faulkner, who said he has been fielding similar calls from all over the state.

He said the costs are likely higher because of the harsh winter last year that resulted in a salt shortage in February.

“Mother Nature wiped out salt supplies … now demand is outpacing the supply,” he said.

Throughout the state winter salt prices submitted to ODOT vary from $51 to $87 per ton. Sixty-three of the 88 counties have already contracted with the department for the winter, while 10 counties received no bids at all, he said.

Fifteen counties received bids of more than $100 per ton, including Columbiana County, which he said received the lowest bid of those counties.

The department is now faced with the decision to rebid the material, but that could result in even higher costs, he said.

“We kind of roll the dice when that happens. We are going to work with communities and find solutions. We are going to do everything we can for our local communities,” he said.