Better snow removal will cost money

City officials told council that increased snow removal is possible, but that it would come at a higher cost to taxpayers or with cuts.

CITY Council can have snow-covered streets cleared sooner and faster and it’s only a matter of how much tax money it wants to spend.

That was the thrust of a special Jan. 13 meeting council held in response to mounting criticisms of the city’s snow removal policy.

Phone calls, emails and social media outlets have questioned the city’s handling of this winter’s higher-than-normal snowfall.

City officials told council that increased snow removal is possible, but that it would come at a higher cost to taxpayers or with cuts to other services.

“It’s not like we get an awful lot of money,” said Terrace director of public works Herb Dusdal at the meeting. “Are we going to suffer the inconvenience to get ahead, or are we going to raise taxes?”

Currently, the city budgets $515,000 for roads, sidewalks and hydrant clearance, a price that includes labour, ploughing, equipment, sanding, drainage problems, sand and salt, contractors, and picking up winter sand in the springtime.

But it’s rare that costs stay within the budget.

Last year about $770,000 was spent.

“I’m sure that number will climb with (coming) invoices,” said finance director Ron Bowles of outside help brought in so far this winter.

Money comes from accumulated surplus, which is a small part of the budget set aside for emergencies, he said.

Dusdal explained the budget allows the city to staff three shifts from Monday to Fridays, and a single day shift on weekends.

Day and night crews are staffed with three to four employees, afternoons are staffed with two, and weekends three, said Dusdal.

“Anything extra is through overtime and contractors,” he said.

“Unless things are really really bad, that’s where that’s going to stay,” he said. “That’s what our budget and policy are telling us to do right now.”

Pernarowski said that a lot of community concern he’s heard has been about sidewalks.

“We have currently two sidewalk clearing machines,” said Dusdal, explaining that the city spent $10,000 more clearing sidewalks last year than was budgeted.

Councillors raised questions about the  types and effectiveness of machinery used, how long it takes for city equipment to clear roads, at what  speed machines have to travel to work properly, why certain streets get skipped, and at what cost contractors could be brought in to do work.

Dusdal said the city’s road repair budget would suffer should council decide it wanted to buy more snowplow equipment.

Putting full crews on for weekend coverage would add $100,000 to the snow removal budget, said Dusdal.

Type of snow and length of snowfall affects how long clearing it takes, with wet snow posing a larger problem than dry, the public works director added.

The longer it snows, the longer city crews have to spend ensuring priority routes are kept clear, Dusdal added.

Machines must travel relatively quickly for optimal performance, said Dusdal, explaining at night time crews travel faster to cover more ground.

Sometimes, streets are left uncleared due to their priority  placement, he said, but sometimes it’s human interference that keeps the job from getting done.

“We will occasionally have someone get out and stand in front of a grader,” said Dusdal. “It happens.”

Hills, hospital and school zones and then the downtown core top the priority list.

Dusdal added cars parked on streets also keep the job from getting done quickly and efficiently.

Lastly, he explained adding contractors is tough because work for them must be consistent and reliable — and the snow isn’t.