St. John's 2013 snowclearing expenditures about $500K over budget: Breen

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Major snowfalls that bookended 2013 have pushed last year’s snowclearing costs in St. John’s about half a million dollars into the red.

Coun. Danny Breen, presenting the snowclearing report at city council’s regular Monday meeting, said the city’s $15.4-million snowclearing budget was largely on track until an earlier and-greater-than expected snowfall in December bumped costs.

“Last year, we had snow early, as everybody knows, and we were going right along, pretty close to a balanced budget on snowclearing,” said Breen. “Our staff don’t have the final numbers calculated yet, but we’re probably looking at a deficit in that area, about a half-million dollars.”

Much of the deficit comes from overtime costs, as well as higher-than-budgeted expenses for salt and diesel fuel, said Breen.

Breen noted that the city keeps a reserve fund for snowclearing deficits.

“In years when we have a positive variance, we fund the reserve,” he said, adding the reserve fund is currently at its maximum, $2 million. “When we have these bumps in the cycle, we’re able to take those into account and ensure that our budgeting is kept fairly reasonable.”

Ten days into January, the city has spent $92,430 of its budgeted $300,000 for overtime in 2014, more than $85,000 over its year-to-date budget for labour. The variance will smooth itself out through the year provided costs return to normal, Breen said.

“I hope we’re not going to have snow right through the whole year or else we’re in big trouble.”

The cost of snowclearing downtown is expensive, especially when contractors are hired to dump the snow, said Breen. “It’s an important operation,” he said. “Snow keeps falling, we keep clearing it. It has to be done. It’s not something that you can just stop doing because you go over budget.”

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe countered critics of city snowclearing efforts — including a Telegram editorial — by saying the snow that fell in December and January was relentless.

“When we get into these systems where you have a storm and two days later you have another storm and then two days later you have another snowfall and they have to go from salting and plowing to snow removal and widening,” he said, “and then they get another snowfall right away and they gotta go back to salting and plowing and everything gets backed up … but given the opportunity, given a week or 10 days, our crews do an amazing job. It’s a very extensive operation.”

Coun. Dave Lane noted downtown businesses are dissatisfied by city snowclearing this year, citing lost revenue and productivity, and said “more creative ideas” are needed to discuss with city staff to tackle the problem.

Coun. Jonathan Galgay said he received noise complaints about contractors hired to remove snow from private residential and business properties and doing so in the middle of the night.

Paul Mackey, deputy city manager of public works, said snowclearing operations are exempt from noise bylaws.

“When we do receive complaints, we make an effort to contact the individual property owners, sometimes contractors directly,” he said. “Most people try to work it out as best they can and still get the job done.”

Geographic location: St. John's

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  • just me
    January 14, 2014 - 11:09

    Boo hoo! As previously mentioned, obviously the budget was done incorrectly. You can't always go with last year's snowfall! That's like me saying "I'm only going to buy so much gas for my snowblower" because last year I only spent $100 so this year I'm budgeting 100$.. Makes me think those deciding the amount are not the sharpest knives in the drawer...

  • Roena Marshall
    January 14, 2014 - 09:11

    Every year we are over the budget on snow clearing. It is only January. Someone is doing the budget improperly. People are sick of hearing the same thing

    • Calvin
      January 14, 2014 - 10:37

      Guys you aren't reading the article correctly. This is over on last years budget, 2013. The 2014 budget has just started. Most of this weather and snow clearing took place in 2013. Read and think before spewing forth this garbage....

  • Baloney
    January 14, 2014 - 08:35

    Such baloney. If this is the case than obviously there needs to be an audit conducted at the department of works. The city barely did any snow clearing whatsoever before this last storm and even after the storm the city waiting for the rain to take care of the majority of it. We need some serious auditing to take place over at the department of works. Surely something isn't right here. I'd go as far as to say the city completely dropped the ball this winter. They didn't do a bloody thing right, there was no consideration given to public safety whatsoever. To say they put any effort into snow clearing is a complete joke. How the budget could be eaten up already is beyond me.

  • Calvin
    January 14, 2014 - 07:44

    Unless I am mistaken, doesn't the city of Mt. Pearl employ a truck which melts snow into storm drains? I don't see why this wouldn't work downtown. It would save time of moving the snow, just dump it in the back of the truck and melt it; gone. With that said, it is a big city and there are a lot of streets. The city is doing what it can with the resources available. Everyone wants better snow clearing, which equates to increased taxes, which everyone will then complain about. It is a vicious cycle, be thankful we have roads and running water people.

  • Guy Incognito
    January 14, 2014 - 07:42

    Isn't that about what the harbour fence cost?