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St. John’s mayor says January blizzard ‘most expensive storm' city's had

Snowblowers clear Balsam Street in central St. John’s on Jan. 19, two days after the record-setting blizzard. Keith Gosse file photo/The Telegram
Snowblowers clear Balsam Street in central St. John’s on Jan. 19, two days after the record-setting blizzard. Keith Gosse file photo/The Telegram

City estimates it’s up to $5 million over the $17.5-million snowclearing budget

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Cleanup of the Jan. 17 blizzard came with a massive financial cost to the city.

St. John’s budgets about $17.5 million annually for snowclearing, expecting an average of 350 centimetres of snow for the entire fiscal year from January to December.

But St. John’s has already received 210 cm of snow since Jan. 1 — and that’s not including what fell on Wednesday.

The city figures the cost of snowclearing this year could exceed the $17.5-million budget by $4 million to $5 million.

“When you take into account the size of what we spend on snowclearing compared to other years when we’ve had similar-size storms, I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s been the most expensive storm we’ve had,” Mayor Danny Breen told reporters at city hall on Wednesday.

He said he’s not sure what hurricane Igor cost the city, but he doesn’t think it was as much as the January blizzard.

Breen said it’s difficult to say exactly what the extra cost of the storm will be because it depends on the weather for the rest of the year, as well as how much the city will get in disaster relief from the federal government.

The dollar figure of that disaster relief, and when it can be expected, will not be known until later in the year. However, Breen said he’s “highly doubtful” the federal relief will cover the full extra amount.

The $4-million to $5-million estimate takes into account staff overtime, contracted snow removal costs, fleet expenses, fuel and other supplies.


Mayor Danny Breen updated reporters on estimated "Snowmaggedon" costs after the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday. - Juanita Mercer
Mayor Danny Breen updated reporters on estimated "Snowmaggedon" costs after the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday. - Juanita Mercer

 

Towns spent tens of thousands to help

Not included in those contracted snow removal costs is what it cost other municipalities to send equipment and crews to help St. John’s dig out from the record-breaking storm.

Breen said those municipalities, and the provincial government, offered those services “on their own goodwill,” so the city will not be paying for that. He did clarify later on Wednesday that St. John's would be paying the bill for Corner Brook's services.

“That’s something that if they ran into the same problem, and we were able to help, we would do the same,” he said.

Municipalities that came to the capital city’s aid were Clarenville, Conception Bay South, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

Darren Finn, chief administrative officer with the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, told The Telegram the town spent a total of $26,450 providing assistance to St. John’s with three employees, one semi-dump truck and one diesel snowblower over the course of 12 days.

A spokesperson with the Town of Gander said their finance and municipal works departments are estimating it cost about $19,000 to supply St. John’s with two operators and a loader-mounted snowblower for just under two weeks.

The Telegram contacted the other municipalities but did not receive a response detailing their costs by press deadline.

At the provincial level, a spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Works said it cost an estimated $1,155,000 to help the city with snowclearing operations using six snowblowers, 42 dump trucks to transport snow, 16 light vehicles for supervision and traffic control, and 92 personnel.

The spokesperson said some of that amount may be eligible for federal reimbursement; the province is applying for assistance through the federal government’s Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements.

No tax increases, service cuts: Breen

Breen said the cost should be covered without having to increase taxes or cut services.

He said one benefit to the storm hitting so early in the fiscal year is that it gives staff time to develop a plan to address the added costs.

Options to address the extra millions of dollars include using the snowclearing reserve fund of $2 million, reducing or deferring expenditures, or using savings that might be identified after 2019 accounts are finalized.

Breen said the reserve fund is money set aside annually for unforeseen circumstances, “and this is clearly an unforeseen circumstance.”

He said the city hasn't had to use that reserve fund in recent years.

In comparison to the overall city budget – roughly $300 million – Breen said the extra snowclearing cost is “not a huge piece of that.”

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

This story has been updated.

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