Winter storms estimate: $13.5 million for Atlanta

Atlanta’s price tag is in for a pair of storms that first delivered an icy gridlock followed by a one-two punch of snow and sleet: $13.5 million.

That’s what city officials spent to treat roads, pay overtime, provide equipment and materials, feed and house workers, and then clean up the streets. Some of those costs will be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal were among city and state leaders criticized for the handling of the first storm, which saw thousands of motorists stranded on roadways overnight and students trapped in schools. The gridlock, which captured national headlines, hindered Atlanta's efforts to clear city streets while state officials grappled with frozen interstates at the heart of the congestion.

All told, the Jan. 28 storm cost Atlanta about $2.8 million over the course of three days, according to documents obtained from the city. Nearly half of this storm’s cost came from paying overtime for road crews and public safety workers — with $750,000 alone funding overtime for police officers. And while the city spent more than $123,000 on salt and sand materials to treat roads, the Department of Aviation spent nearly $148,000 to keep the airport and its runways clear.

STORM 1, JAN. 28-30

Total cost: $2,805,394

Overtime/benefits: $1,188,984

Emergency contracts: $1,199,710

Equipment: $26,720

Food: $31,026

Materials: $358,954

Atlanta gets a do-over

Two weeks later, Mother Nature delivered a second wintry blast to the region, giving political leaders a unique opportunity for redemption. But it came at a hefty price. Atlanta officials spent about $8.8 million triaging the three-day storm, with more than 70 percent of costs tied to private contractors who aided city crews’ efforts to treat, and re-treat, city streets around the clock.

Four private firms — including three that had pre-existing contracts with the city to aid in weather events — racked up about $6 million in charges to the city.

The Department of Public Works also maintains annual contracts for materials, such as sand and salt, thus the city didn’t pay inflated costs due to salt shortage, Commissioner Richard Mendoza said. Private contractors, however, were used to truck in salt from South Carolina.

Personnel costs accounted for about one-fifth of the storm’s charges, with nearly $850,000 in overtime to police officers, $323,000 to aviation workers and $310,000 to Public Works employees.

Atlanta spent an estimated $2 million cleaning up the ensuing sand and gravel that turned downtown streets into dusty coastlines.

Mendoza said the February storm was on par with what the city spent during an ice storm in 2011. Despite the sticker shock, he believes the costs are fair.

“Nobody died — in my mind, that is justified,” he said.

Adding that the costs would’ve been far lower had the city sat idle, he said: “Who knows what the human cost would be?”

STORM 2, FEB. 11-13

Total cost: $10,745,627

Overtime/benefits: $1,870,147

Emergency contracts: $6,198,690

Equipment: $35,187

Food: $118,844

Travel/hotel: $33,395

Materials (salt, sand, etc.): $501,189

Post-storm road cleanup: $1,988,175

Covering the expense

The city does not budget for storm events, thus the bill is likely to be paid out of the city’s reserves, officials said. Because the February storm was declared a federal state of emergency, some costs will also be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Councilman Alex Wan, the chairman of the council’s finance committee, said he and Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong have called for a joint work session to analyze the storms’ costs and the city’s response. The finance committee is also weighing legislation authorizing $2.5 million to buy additional storm equipment.

“Before we move on any of that, we need to know what happened and how much we spent so that we can make informed decisions on how we plan moving forward,” Wan said, later adding: “Thirteen million (dollars) is a pretty big number to hit.”