Why Butler County is paying 16 percent more for road salt ahead of next winter

The Butler County engineer and communities that bulk purchase road salt with him will pay almost $300,000 more than last year, continuing the trend in higher bid prices municipalities are experiencing this year.

The commissioners recently approved a contract with Cargill Incorporated at a per-ton cost of $73.21 compared to $62.98 last year. The contract was for 28,920 tons of salt, and if everyone buys up to the limit, it will cost $2.1 million compared to $1.8 million in 2018.

The highest of the four bids received was $92.84 from Morton Salt, which would have cost $2.68 million.

County Engineer Greg Wilkens bids salt for most of the townships, New Miami, Metro Parks and the city of Fairfield, and those jurisdictions pay for the salt they buy. He said if the county buys its full complement of 8,820 tons to treat about 570 county lane miles, it will be a $90,000 cost increase over this year just for the county, which “is pretty substantial in anybody’s book.”

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“I just hope we don’t use it. That’s the real key. I hope we don’t need much of it. I think our barns are full now but if we need it we need it,” he said. “It’s just the cost of doing business which can get scary when you’re on a generally fixed income. We just got the little raise but when you start looking at that, it doesn’t go that far.”

The state passed a gas tax hike in the transportation budget earlier this year and an estimated $7.1 million more will be flowing to Butler County communities. The county will reap the biggest reward next year, with about $1.5 million more in fuel tax funding. The tax hike takes effect in July.

The cities and villages ordered up to 6,625 tons, and the townships ordered about 13,475 tons. The county’s largest township, West Chester Twp., with its 223 road miles, ordered about 3,000 tons and has 4,000 tons of salt in the barn already. Tim Franck, community services director, said the price hike shouldn’t adversely impact the township.

“It doesn’t change our budget at all, we’ll still budget our annual $200,000 per year and then we’ll order based on need,” Franck said. “We filled our dome this spring at the lower price as we always do.”

Fairfield Public Works Director Dave Butsch said fluctuations in price regularly happen.

“It’s all supply and demand, how bad the winters maybe were last year or in the north, cause there’s only usually a couple places they pull salt from,” Butsch said. “One is down in Louisiana in the salt mines and the other is under Lake Erie, so it can vary quite a bit. In ‘16 it was $68 but going back to 2003 it was $29.”

He said he usually over-budgets for salt because he doesn’t want to be left without options like Forest Park and Springdale, which several years ago were left without bids on their salt requests. He usually plans to buy 4,500 tons, which will cost about $329,000. He said he only used 3,521 tons this past winter.

“It’s kind of like fuel for the police cruisers,” Butsch said. “If the prices go high are you going to stop driving police cruisers? Probably not. I’m just happy to get salt.”

The salt bids weren’t the only contract offers that came in high this year. Wilkens delayed the bottleneck busting project to widen Tylersville Road at the Interstate 75 interchange because bids came in $1 million over the estimate. The massive Union Centre Boulevard transformation is underway, at a cost of $20 million, about $6 million over the original estimate.

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