By Jessica Lovell
In spite of a noticeably wintery winter, the city hasn’t run out of money in the snow-clearing budget – not yet, anyway. But general manager of public works Rod Keller is expecting his department to go over its roughly $4-million budget for winter control.
“We’re tracking to be overspent this year,” said Keller, adding “if we have a really mild March, then everything gets back on track.”
Funds the city sets aside for winter control activities covers everything from clearing roads and sidewalks to municipal parking lots, steps and trails, as well as snow removal in the downtown. The money needs to last from January to March, and even into April some years, with enough left over for November and December of next winter.
Last year, the city went over its spending by around $750,000, said Keller.
“That includes that big ice storm on Dec. 22” and a snow storm a few days later, just before the end of the budget year, he said.
A shortfall in the operating budget doesn’t mean the work doesn’t get done; it just means the city will draw more from its reserves.
“The city allows me to go and do what I need to do to make roads and sidewalks as safe as possible,” said Keller.
It can be difficult to predict what the city will need to spend on snow clearing from year to year, so the budget is usually adjusted based on a five-year rolling average, said Keller.
Though last winter might not have seemed so bad compared with some (this winter, for example), it was a harsh winter compared with the five years that went before, he said, attempting to explain why the city went over its budget last year.
“I’m a big proponent of having reserves for things that we don’t control – like Mother Nature,” Keller said.
Keller couldn’t give exact numbers for how much has been spent so far this year.
“It’s actually showing I’m under budget . . . but there are a lot of bills that haven’t come in yet,” he said.
Each time the city does a residential plow-out – which kicks in with a 10-centimetre snowfall accumulation – it spends $60,000 on private contractors, said Keller.
There is currently about $180,000 in outstanding bills to private contractors, he said. That will put the budget over where it should be to date, but nowhere near his year’s allotment of $4 million, he said.
And in spite of rumours to the contrary, one thing the city is not running out of is salt, said Keller.
“We have enough salt,” he said.
The city stockpiles its road salt supplies at the beginning of the season, then gets salt delivered throughout the winter, making an effort to keep a minimum of about 1,000 tonnes on hand, he said.
The deliveries come from Goderich, and although weather has caused its problems, the city has yet to run out.
By Jessica Lovell