Chicago weather: Extreme cold, snow add up to big bills

The extreme winter weather is taking a financial toll on homeowners, businesses and city budgets.
January 22, 2014 8:30:23 PM PST
Blowing snow and bitter cold temperature made it a dangerous night to be out on Wednesday.

Dangerous Cold: How to prepare for winter storms, extreme cold | Winter driving tips | Health, safety tips | Protecting your pets | What you need in your car | What you need to do at home | Chicago Warming Centers

Wind chills down to 25 below zero are possible in some parts of the Chicago area.

This weather is getting old and costly. Heating bills are skyrocketing for some and city budgets have been strained by efforts to keep streets and sidewalks safe. Hearty Chicagoans could still be found on the streets Wednesday night, but this ferocious winter is testing the mental toughness of many. It's also going to test municipal and family budgets.

Some communities are now conserving road salt because they are running out. They say they're forced to salt only main streets and intersections. Home heating costs are also soaring as the temperature drops.

In Chicago's Little Italy community, at least one business is also facing increased costs. A week or so ago, a pipe burst in the dining room of RoSal's, a popular Italian restaurant on Taylor Street. It destroyed a 100-year-old tin ceiling and sent water everywhere.

Just like that, 25 years of history was washed away. Tin ceilings destroyed. Wood floors ruined. A family restaurant reduced to this.

"It's frustrating because you lose people who have been coming here for years to eat and you hope they don't find a new place and don't come back. That's the hardest part, the scariest part of it," said Joe Fulco, RoSal's owner.

Joe Fulco is rebuilding Rosal's. The cost of one frozen, then broken, water line: $200,000-300,000.

"My biggest concern is the employees, figuring out how to take care of them while we're closed for about two months," said Fulco.

Elsewhere, the costs are also piling up as fast as the snow. In Naperville: Overtime for plow drivers is already $151,000 over what was budgeted for the entire winter. Crown Point, Indiana's snow-related overtime is up $42,813. Waukegan has spent $140,000 more on salt.

Statewide, the Illinois Department of Transportation tells Eyewitness News it has spent four times as much money on snow and ice than it did last year. The state's transportation chief says that could mean cuts in other areas.

"If we do go over budget for those types of commodities and fuel then we would go to other parts of the budget," said Ann Schneider, IDOT.

Many renters and homeowners are just now starting to experience the sting from the deep freeze earlier this month. It comes in the form of gas bills, that are double the previous month in some cases.

"I log on and was like 'What!' And then I looked at this and was like, '$220 bucks, I've never paid that much for utilities anywhere,'" said Amr Abdallah.

It cost him $220 to heat a two bedroom, 1,200 square foot apartment. That's led to some changes at the thermostat.

In the suburbs, NICOR reports the deep freeze in early January led to its second highest usage in history.

"If you compare it to last year, it's about 30-percent colder for the same period so we know that customers will be using more natural gas during the month of January and therefore could see increases in their January bills," said Annette Martinez, Nicor Gas spokesperson.

People's Gas tells Eyewitness News that 10,000 more heating assistance grants have been received this year than last year.

Utility bill assistance programs:
People's Gas: http://www.peoplesgasdelivery.com/home/share_warmth.aspx
Nicor Gas: http://nicorgas.aglr.com/Home/EnergyAssistance.aspx
NIPSCO: http://www.nipsco.com/en/billingpayment/payment-assistance.aspx


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