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Warm weather takes $ out of snowplowing family budgets

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PEPPERELL — The lack of snow and (until recently at least) warm temperatures might save municipal highway departments a lot of tax dollars, but conditions are hurting the seasonal earnings of local snow plow contractors, who depend upon snow to survive winter downtime.

Attempts to document a large number of individual stories proved difficult, for many owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with plows were not willing to talk to the press about their cash-only businesses. However, they universally lamented the lack of revenue coming in.

Only infrequently does the town hire private contractors for municipal roads. Highway Superintendent Peter Shattuck said all 12 routes are handled by town vehicles and only if breakdowns occur would private parties be called.

Naturally, owner-operators who have full-time jobs, and who plow snow only for extra income, feel the pinch the least.

Others, such as those who work in home construction and related industries, have been feeling a double pinch. Not only does construction slow down in the winter, but new home construction began to taper off halfway through 2006.

Some small business owners who do snowplowing on the side can eke out income from their construction-related businesses while warm weather lasts.

One such is self-employed house painter Richard Edwardsen of Countryside Road, who has contracts to plow a number of private driveways.

“We can paint (interiors) and business is about 95 percent right now,” he said. “We use plowing as a second income. It’s nice to be able to pay for truck insurance with plowing (though).”

He keeps his plow truck registered and insured all year because he finds it less expensive in the long run.

“(Plowing) isn’t glorious to make money when you’re up all night and get calls from six different people from all sides of town at the same time. But it’s relaxing to me and is good,” Edwardsen said.

“The other guys, the landscapers and the ones that depend on plowing full-time, are really hurting. I do one neighborhood and maybe 15 drives. The guys that bought sanders and are making payments on them are really hurting,” he said.

“I’m just a little guy but I know people who bought 9-foot blades this year. It’s $5,000 for a good plow (not counting the cost of a truck) and they haven’t hit the asphalt yet,” he said.

One landscaper and snow plow contractor who has taken advantage of the weather is David Babin of Hollis Street.

His son, David Babin Jr., said that the company has kept busy doing some landscaping and “hard scaping” (stone walls and patios).

“If it snows, we stop. Our customers know that,” Babin said.

“We’ve bought no new snow plows but we did buy a new landscaping truck,” he said. “Snow plow money comes in when it’s cold and you can’t do anything else. Luckily it (wasn’t) freezing (for a long time). It would be nice to have snow but we’re kind of poking away.”

According to National Association of Home Builders economists ( at www.nahb.org), the home building slowdown is the result of a stabilization of sales and demand, and the first important step in getting the housing market back on track. A second key to housing market recovery is shrinking available inventory, which has been underway for more than six months.

According to NAHB and recent news reports, new home sales in the Northeast were up 27.3 percent in the last quarter. The number of prospective buyers has also increased due to price adjustments and sales incentives, which whittles down inventory.

“We anticipate that (new home) sales will bottom out in the first quarter of this year and that residential construction activity will be moving up by the second half of 2007,” NAHB chief economist David Seiders is quoted as saying on the Web site.

That might bode well for mid-2007 incomes but the expenses of winter are here right now.