(Snow removal in Fairwinds. Photo by Hien Hoang.)
Forgive me for being cynical, but when you schedule a presentation about snowplow service during the first week of July, and only tell the public about it two days before the long weekend, my first thought is that you’re trying to bury some bad news.
That’s exactly what it looks like the City has done with a KPMG report scheduled to be tabled at a Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The news they might be trying to bury? One of the recommendations is to change the minimum threshold for clearing snow on residential streets. Currently, plows are sent out once 7 centimetres of snow has fallen. The report says that should be increased to 10 centimetres.
The idea is to reduce snow-clearing costs, which keep going over budget. Changing the minimum snowfall amount would save $1-million, according to KPMG.
Good for Rick Chiarelli for raising a stink about it last week: “If you remember the most recent winter – if you thought that was bad – this is going to be far worse. To try and ram it through, right before Canada Day, is something that flies in the face of any kind of respect for tax payers,” he told 1310 News.
(Nice to see Mayor Jim Watson changing his tune today, calling the proposal “draconian”.)
I hope Councillor Qadri and the rest his committee colleagues give a resounding “no” to the idea. When you talk about core city services, snow clearing has to be right up there at the top alongside garbage, water, sewers and roads.
What’s the point of scraping down major roads if the smaller feeder streets are impassable after every storm? My kids missed enough school days this year from cancelled buses. Maybe you couldn’t get to work because of the thick snow. Less plowing of residential streets is only going to make that worse.
Here’s another point that’s worrisome: The City has gone over-budget on snow clearing in each of the past four years. In 2013 there was a $23.9-million shortfall. I know it’s hard to predict how much snow we’ll get, but when you go over by millions of dollars each year that’s a sign your budget isn’t working.
According to Councillor Jan Harder, the 2015 snow clearing budget was only 4.6% higher than the 2010 budget. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s road network grew by 7%, and we added 11% more sidewalks to clear. Add inflation on top of that and it’s starts to become clear why the City keeps running deficits.
Why didn’t the City (and councillors) get in front of this problem sooner, before they were snowed under?