Back-to-back profoundly snowy winters perhaps could have come at a worse time, but right now the region's municipal managers can't think of one.
With tax revenues down and budgets under attack, they say that yet another disruptive winter was about as welcome as a major car-repair bill after getting a pay cut.
"It's been a nerve-racking year," said Tom Micozzie, mayor of Upper Darby Township.
Stunned by two seasons that have deposited a total of more than 10 feet of snow on parts of the region, some local officials are even wondering whether this is the future of winter. "It could be the new normal," said David Forrest, Norristown's municipal administrator.
The final snow-battling bills are still being tallied, and it's not yet clear what all this will mean to other municipal services or to taxpayers, but the early assessments point to another indisputably brutal winter for public-works budgets.
Philadelphia so far has spent $12 million on snow and ice fighting - about $20 per household - after putting up $20.5 million last winter, Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson said Thursday. She said the two-year total was "definitely" unprecedented.
After the beating it took last winter, Cherry Hill had the foresight to budget $450,000 - an extra $150,000 - for snow fighting this season. It has gone through $570,000 so far, said Dan Keashen, spokesman for the township, which has cut 20 percent of its jobs in the last five years.
"We are suffering right now," Keashen said. "There's just no revenue to continue to pay for emergency services."
Lower Merion, where township staff has been cut more than 15 percent and residents have been hit with a steep tax increase, already has gone through most of its overtime budget for the year.
Perkasie has spent 10 times more on salt this winter than it did in the relatively mild winter of 2008-09.
Oddly, as last year, this winter has been particularly hard on Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Normally snowier areas such as Scranton and State College, Pa., were not as hard-hit.
Another peculiarity lay in the timing of the storms, which generally worked out well for commuters, not so well for overtime budgets.
"I'm thrilled that snowstorms always tend to come along at night and weekends," quipped Chuck Chiarello, mayor of Buena Vista, Atlantic County, and president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
That area's biggest snow of the season came on a Monday, but it happened to be Dec. 26, the legal Christmas holiday.
The bulk of the damage from the "thundersnow" storm of Jan. 26-27 came in the middle of the night. Cherry Hill spent $350,000 on just that storm, Keashen said.
Few of New Jersey's 566 municipalities have escaped winter's budget wrath this season, Chiarello said, a situation compounded by the cold shoulder some of them are getting from Trenton.
Cherry Hill has lost about $3.3 million in state aid in the last three years, Keashen said.
Chiarello said he recognized that Buena Vista gets off relatively easily. Snow fighting is more complicated and expensive in Philadelphia and other communities that actually have to remove some of the plowed snow to make room for cars and commerce. "We're a nice rural place in the Pinelands," he said. "We push the snow to the sides."
"If you have a downtown, you have no choice but to remove," said Rick Schuettler, deputy director of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.
"If you don't do anything, you're on tonight's news," Chiarello said.
"Our merchants absolutely expect it to be clear in the morning so they can open up," said Daniel P. Olpere, borough manager in Perkasie, which has spent $21,000 this year on road salt, compared with $2,100 in the winter of 2008-09.
Olpere said the borough had set aside extra money based on what happened last year, and so far its spending is close to projections. But like just about everyone else, he said, "we're trying to do more with less."
Perkasie evidently paid scant attention to the preseason forecasts calling for a mild winter, a wise move as it turned out.
The 44 inches measured officially in Philadelphia this winter has made it the eighth-snowiest in 125 years of data. The combined 122.7 inches of the last two winters is far and away the two-season record. The annual winter average in Philadelphia is about 20 inches.
But Philadelphia snowfall varies widely from season to season, and the long-term record argues against a "new normal." In the 1960s, annual snowfall averaged 29 inches, compared with 13 at the turn of the 20th century.
Tolson said she was hoping for a return to normal in the coming years - and an end to the snows of 2010-11.
"We hope that we've seen the last of the snow of this season," she said.