Since I was first elected in 2017, City council has constantly and continually talked about clearing the snow from our road system. I can’t count how many blogs I have written and how many conversations we have had, at Council and in the community, about snow clearing.
And in every conversation, this question inevitably comes up: In a city that has winter weather for 6-8 months a year, why is it so hard to manage the snow?
During budget deliberations in December 2021, I brought forward a Motion to fund a snow and Ice Operational Yard in Ambleside. Council passed this motion unanimously, which means we will see the design and construction of this yard start immediately. This means more efficient snow removal in the Southwest.
However, there is still more work to be done. I have said every year since 2017, that it seems there are fewer trucks on the road after a storm. That it takes longer for the trucks to get to the arterials in our ward than it used to. And that when they do come, they do a poor job of getting the snow off the road and up over the curb.
And for years, I have been told that Administration has been working to our snow clearing policy and meeting those metrics. It didn’t add up - how could the same budget provide the same level of service when we can see the City is much bigger than it used to be? Straight answers have been very hard to come by.
Well, now we have some. During the 2021-2022 winter season, all our snow clearing equipment was fitted out with GPS trackers. The data collected was telling, and is summarized in the reports released on April 14.
Among other data points, Administration advises that our truck fleet was 57% utilized. Of the number of truck-hours available, we used 57% of them.
And the amount of roadway to be cleared has increased 21%.
We have more streets. And we have been using fewer trucks.
What’s more, the reports indicate that a shortage of operators is to blame. We lack both the budget and the number of trained operators to get more trucks on the road more of the time.
Where did those budgets and operators go? What came first, the loss of money to spend, or the operators to spend it on? I will be asking those questions on April 25th, when these reports are debated at Committee.
We are told that to get to 100% utilization of our road clearing equipment will require a budget increase of $27M. And to get to 100% utilization of the equipment that clears bus stops, sidewalks and shared use paths will require another increase of $17M.
I think we need to increase these budgets, and get every piece of equipment doing as much as we can. And once we do get to 100%, we can establish our current baseline capacity. Once we establish a baseline, then we can talk about added services.
So what does this all mean to get to 100% utilization of our road clearing equipment?t
- It would mean leaving the snowpack on residential roads - no blading to bare pavement, no giant windrows.
- It would mean that the City does not take over responsibility for all city sidewalks - you will still have to shovel the sidewalk in front of your house.
- It would mean figuring out what we can do with the equipment we have, before deciding to buy more equipment to do more and different things.
- More than anything else, however, it means figuring out where an increase of $42M a year for snow clearing will come from. Without any other reductions in our budget, this increase alone would require a 2.4% property tax increase.
Please tell me what you think. Should we increase the snow budget? Where should we find the money? Are you willing to pay increased taxes if it means better snow clearing service? Can you manage if we don’t blade residential roads to bare pavement?
I encourage you to share your feedback with me by emailing [email protected] or calling my office at 780-496-8130. I appreciate your feedback ahead of this important conversation on April 25.
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