BY BILL PHILLIPS
Coun. Brian Skakun wants the city to look at ways of possibly spending less money on snow removal, but keeping service levels high.
Council has increased the snow removal budget to $8.5 million, in order to align the budget closer to what is actually spent. Skakun says there has to be a better option than simply increasing the budget.
“The rate that we’re increasing the snow removal budget, close to $10 million now, is unsustainable,” said Skakun. “Unless we come up with some sort of plan on how we can better manage the snow removal, we’re just not going to be able to control those costs.”
More than a quarter of the 4.3 per cent take hike, approved by council this year, goes to the snow removal budget.
“It’s a significant amount of money,” said Skakun.
He has asked administration to look at some of the snow removal options, such storing more snow on the sides of roads, putting smaller piles on the boulevards. In January, he says, $2 million, almost 25 per cent, of the $8.5 million snow removal budget was used.
“In 2015, when we had the Mercury Report (which looked into snow removal) we actually stored a fair bit of snow on the boulevards,” he said. “In about six weeks, from November to January, we hauled about 5,800 truckloads of snow, instead of plowing onto the sides of the road. You can’t pick it all up, but I’m just saying we need to look at that.”
He acknowledges that in some areas, such as downtown, snow has to be hauled away. The reason so much is being hauled from other areas is that residents have asked for snow to be hauled away.
“Years ago we used to pile on the boulevards on Ospika and Tabor, anywhere where there was a break that traffic went through the boulevard, those piles were cut down so we had good sight-lines,” he said. “You look at the end of Massey, we pick up all that snow there. There has to be 150 feet of grass on both sides of the street, on both sides of street … we’re picking all of that up.”
He has driven around the city and identified a few areas he believes snow could be piled into the ditch rather than hauled away.
“I just said (to city administration and council) why don’t we plow that into the ditch to save money, but there hasn’t been much of an appetite to take that on,” he said.
Other aspects of snow removal such as employee training and dealing with contractors should also be looked act.
“We don’t have a clear idea, at least I don’t, on each part of our snow removal program,” he said, adding that Williams Lake breaks its snow removal budget right down to what they did on each aspect of snow removal such as sidewalks etc.
A report on snow removal will come back to the city in a few months, looking at what kind of service levels the city should have.
“For me that’s kind of worrisome because I think what that’s going to be is ‘do you want to maintain the service and pay what we pay or do you want to reduce the service levels,’” he said. “People are, in no way, in favour of reducing the amount snow clearing.”
However, he says, there may be ways to keep levels and reduce costs.