The city of Chicago may have enough salt for the winter, but that doesn’t mean it will have enough money. 

The recently passed 2009 budget allocates a little more than $17 million for snow and ice removal, a drop of about $1.5 million, or 8 percent, from 2008. It’s the smallest winter cleanup budget since 2004.

Of course, that’s not a complete picture, since the labor and administrative costs of dealing with snow and ice are buried in other parts of the budget, and not always the same ones year to year.

But it’s fair to say the city is crossing its fingers for a milder winter than last. The divisions of the Department of Streets and Sanitation that provide workers to clear snow and ice will have about $6 million less to spend in 2009–which equates to lots of time on the job for employees who earn between $18 and $31 an hour.

One might dare to predict that the city would be eager to make up some of the difference by aggressively enforcing the no-parking tow zones along snow routes [PDF] and in other restricted areas … but budget cuts and service slowdowns are even expected to hit this most unpopular but lucrative activity. The city estimates it’ll end up towing about 137,250 vehicles in 2009, about the same as in 2008 but down from 145,551 in 2007 and 147,784 in 2006.