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Council chomping at the bit to debate snow policy

Setting the scene for rigourous debate, Red Deer city council put administration on the hot seat over all things snow for a second day on Wednesday.

Administration is promising faster and more efficient snow clearing with new triggers and targets in its recommended policy that comes with a $1.7-million price tag over two years.

The new spending brings the projected municipal tax increase to 3.98 per cent, down from the projected 4.21 per cent because of a city miscalculation reported on Tuesday. The 2014 operating budget is about $303 million.

Director of Development Services Paul Goranson fielded questions about the location of a proposed $4.9-million snow storage site, the cost of removing all windrows and a contingency plan when enacting the Emergency Operations Centre in extreme snowfall situations.

Goranson told council the city is currently exploring options for a permanent and interim site for snow storage. Administration is recommending a new site, bringing the total to three sites in the city.

He estimated removing all windrows would put the city on the hook for at least $3.6 million, six times the cost of a residential plow.

The figure does not take into account the additional snow storage or equipment required.

Goranson said ensuring the city has guaranteed resources when the Emergency Operations Centre is enacted will be something the city will need to explore.

Goranson also clarified a point about the proposed residential plowing from Tuesday’s presentation. As it stands now the city does one residential plow each year over 40 days.

“This would likely get us into residential areas four times a year,” he said. “We wouldn’t go down to the pavement. The goal would be a 5-cm pack of snow. It’s about making sure people can get access.”

Councillors were anxious to make comments but Mayor Tara Veer reminded council that the time for debate would be on Thursday.

First-term Coun. Ken Johnston is looking forward to getting knee deep into the snow talk when the debate begins on Thursday. Johnston said at first blush administration has put together recommendations that are achievable targets for residential, commercial and transit.

Johnston expects the debate to get heated around the timing of a new estimated $4.9-million storage site or expansion of the two existing sites.

“I think we need to look at a lot of other options before we commit a number like that into our capital plan,” said Johnston. “On the operational side, I think there’s a few issues that we can tweak particularly along the Priority 4 side if we’re doing a Priority 6 residential plow or blading, some of that will duplicate the bus routes. That will have an impact on the dollar side.”

Second-term Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said other than the snow removal there’s not a lot in the budget that she will ask for revision or change. She said the explanations and presentations by the departments have been very good. Wyntjes said she would be happy if they could keep the municipal tax increase under four per cent.

“A tax increase is never well perceived but if you’re getting value for your dollars and services and the majority of those dollars are going to snow removal, I think we are making progress,” she said.

Coun. Tanya Handley, on the other hand, is not sure residents would be happy to swallow a four per cent tax increase if it meant more snow removal and clearing.

“To be honest, I’ve heard both,” said Handley, another new councillor. “Some people say pay and get it done. While other people say I won’t pay another dime because I pay enough in tax. I have a tendency to side with those who say we pay enough. Let’s manage what we have.”

“I don’t think citizens should be held hostage to snow and told that they can have more service if they pay more taxes especially for something that is such as high priority like snow removal and a core service in our community,” said Handley.

“So it should be an interesting debate.”

Council will debate what they heard starting at 1 p.m. on Thursday. The debate is expected to last for several days.

Some Funding Requests/Adjustments by Division

Development Services

Storm Drainage Master Plan and Utility Feasibility Study - $150,000

Corporate Fleet - $361,738 ongoing represents the increased cost of operations including high priority growth units (approved in the capital budget).

Economic Development Strategy - $100,000 in a lump sum to implement projects identified in the approved strategy.

Environmental Master Plan Implementation - $76,000

Storm Drainage Master Plan and Utility Feasibility Study - $150,000

Planning Services

Updating the engineering design guidelines to reflect new standards - $165,000

Downtown initiatives including the Ross Street Patio - $105,000

Corporate graffiti initiative - $10,000 to develop a better overall policy



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