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Winnipeg City Hall continues annual winter tradition of doubting snow-clearing budget

The cost of recovering from last week’s early-November snowfall was reported to the finance committee Thursday as roughly $1.2 million.

Snow removal along Brazier street at Ottawa in Winnipeg Manitoba, January 10, 2017.

LYLE STAFFORD / Metro Web Upload

Snow removal along Brazier street at Ottawa in Winnipeg Manitoba, January 10, 2017.

Decision-makers in city hall are once again crossing their fingers and hoping Winnipeg will be able to stay in the black while the white stuff starts to fall.

Last week's early November snowfall has already cost the city roughly $1.2 million, the city’s finance committee heard on Thursday.

“The budget for the month of November is $3 million, and we have a couple weeks to go in November, so obviously I’m hoping we are able to come in at or under budget for the end of the year,” said finance committee chairperson Coun. Scott Gillingham.

In other words, he’s hoping it doesn’t snow too much.

Since the snow and ice control budget runs from January to December, the amount of work crews had to do last winter affects how much is left for the beginning of this winter.

In 2017, the city started with a snow budget of $33.8 million, then spent $25.9 million before the summer, so upped the total budget to $35.5 million in September to avoid a projected $2.6 million year-end shortfall, according to an administrative report.

After the past week of plowing and de-icing, there’s a runway of about $8.4 million left—give or take a bit—to get through the rest of November, all of December, and to a budget top-up in 2018.

“But just as a reminder, the City of Winnipeg ultimately clears (the roads) according to policy, not according to budget,” Gillingham said. “If we are hit with a significant snowfall, we have a policy in place, and our public works crews go out and address issues according to the policy.”

Fulfilling that policy often means the snow-clearing budget is insufficient.

In December 2016, more than 68 cm of snow hammered Winnipeg, which resulted in overspending on snow clearing by $11 million, and pushed the city into a deficit to start 2017.

It was enough to cause Gillingham and others working on the city budget to wonder that particular line item deserves a higher annual allowance, which he said is a question again now in advance of the 2018 budget coming out this month—but he wouldn’t say if it would be getting any kind of substantial increase.

“In every budget process and every budget preparation, the discussion around the snow budget is something that’s looked at,” he said. “We’re in that process for 2018 right now, and that’s one of the many discussions that will happen and has been happening.”

Bike lanes are 'not necessarily getting done'

Whatever it does to the budget, drivers can rest assured their commute will be cleared of snow and ice in Winnipeg. The same can not be said for cyclists.

In September, after a report on new snow-clearing strategies for the city’s active transportation (AT) network—originally commissioned in March 2016—was delayed for a fourth time, local cycling advocate Dave Elmore knew it meant another winter of what he and many consider inadequate winter maintenance on AT routes. 

This week, after most roads were totally clear, that fear was confirmed for Elmore after the city’s first real snowfall occurred last Saturday.

“When the snow came down it was wet and sloppy, then they let it freeze up, and it’s almost impassable on a bike,” Elmore said after his commute Thursday.

He even noticed adjustable bike lane curbs installed on Sherbrook Street and Bannatyne Avenue, part of a technical trial the city says involves “monitoring maintenance including snow clearing,” haven’t been cleared of snow.

“We’re looking at it more than four days later, and it would appear as though they haven’t even made a path through there,” he said, calling it an example of how “bicycle infrastructure takes a back seat to everything else” in the city.

He’s not calling for a  budget increase necessarily, just a new policy—which the long-delayed report may call for in December, since “there’s no question this (current policy) doesn’t work.”

“They say that (AT) gets plowed with the streets, but that isn’t even true,” he said. “It’s not necessarily getting done.”

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