Snow plows along Albert Street January 11. Kevin Martel/CJME
The city is already nearly a million dollars over its annual snow removal budget before a snowflake even falls.
Ploughs may not be out for weeks yet but the winter road maintenance budget is more than $900,000 over it's annual $6.34 million cap. It's the result of an exceptionally-high amount of snow that fell last winter, according to mayor Michael Fougere.
"We had a ton of snow, so it was our worst winter ever," he explained Tuesday.
The budget is allocated on the calender year, which means the 2014 budget will kick in January 1. Until then the city will have to rely on the winter maintenance reserve account, which has just over $3.5 million available for overages.
Those figures will come before the Public Works Committee at its meeting Thursday. The agenda will also see the committee consider a number of possible enhancements.
"Every year we get a review back from administration that talks about how we can enhance the service and the cost involved with doing that," Fougere said. He already had the city commit to enforcing snow lanes on busy streets during and after snow storms, citing Albert Street as one example of a road that crews need to have full access to in order to do the best job possible.
Other enhanced options include clearing snow from the lanes where homeowners without driveways park. A homeowner complained earlier this year that the city uses the lane next to the curb in residential areas as "snow storage" even though during non-winter months residents without driveways frequently park their vehicles there. City staff are recommending the city not take that step, according to the agenda.
"Providing an enhanced level of service for some homes and not all, would not only be difficult to consistently apply, but would also be difficult to explain to homeowners that are not eligible for snow removal in front of their house. The public perception would seem unfair," the document suggests.
A more likely change will see city staff clearing sidewalks on properties that don't have "private frongtage." Under the current policy homeowners and business owners are expected to clear the sidwalks that line their lots but places like parks often aren't cleared at all during the winter. Three options for sidewalk coverage are considered in the report: the first would maintain the status quo, under which the city only clears about 14 per cent of the city's sidewalks; the second would have the enhanced removal added in; the third option would make the city responsible for clearing all sidewalks, even in residential areas.
The second option is being recommended by staff but it comes at a cost; the city would spend roughly double the amount it currently does on sidewalk clearing.