Published on January 14, 2014
A City of St. John's crew clears snow in the Pleasantville area of the city Monday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Published on January 14, 2014
City of St. John's snowclearing crews have another obstacle to contend with — not having the access they used to have to the waterfront to dump snow. The recently installed harbour apron security fence does not allow the trucks to dump snow where they once did at the far eastern section of Harbour Drive. Crews now dump snow in a tiny section next to The Keg restaurant further up the harbour apron, and often have to contend with cars parked alongside the old rung fence. Trucks dump snow Monday afternoon from the ongoing snow removal operations, as seen through an opening between the apron access gates near a security shed behind the Bank of Nova Scotia building. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
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.”