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Red Deer city council debates better snow removal versus more costs to taxpayers

Council decided not to invest in a new snow clearing pilot program that would cost taxpatyers more — even though it received a high satisfaction rating from the public.
(Black Press file photo).

Red Deer city council decided not to continue a snow clearing pilot program that would cost taxpayers more — even though it received a high satisfaction rating from the public.

On Monday, Parks and Public Works manager Greg Sikora gave councillors run-down of how a new pilot snow and ice removal pilot program was delivered last winter. He said Red Deerians were generally happy with the pilot to clear residential bus routes more quickly.

Because of a dry winter, the city did not activate 24/7 clearing on grey route in residential areas. All the same, the quicker clearing of green (bus) routes, sidewalks etc. led to a higher than budgeted expense.

Sikora reported a cost overrun of $1.28 million (of that amount, $986,000 will need to be found in the 2024 budget). While the base budget for snow and ice control program was $5.88 million, a total of about $7.16 million was spent during the pilot program last winter (November to April).

He told council the over-spending was due to the need for additional traction control materials, for clearing sidewalks on both sides of streets, prioritizing transit stops, and neighbourhood trails, and for the equipment rentals needed to help speed up clearing operations.

As the municipality will be facing another austerity budget in 2025, city administration recommended not continuing with the pilot program and waiting until the end of 2024 to decide how to pay for the cost overrun.

Actual expenses by the end of the year will vary based on weather conditions this fall, as well as the need for staff deployment, access to fleet vehicles etc. , council was told. Also, Parks and Public Works department could possibly find ways of reducing other expenses to cover some of this deficit.

Council supported administration's "wait and see" recommendation on covering the cost overrun.

It also supported a second administrative recommendation to revert back to the pre-pilot base level of snow clearing service and to incorporate "learnings" from the pilot to make service improvements wherever possible —  as long as they don't lead to more costs.

Coun. Kraymer Barnstable was among the councillors who underlined that most Red Deerians do not want their taxes to go up further.

Coun. Vesna Higham said given that the pilot was a great success — she received positive emails and calls from the public, "like I've never had before" — she suggested continuing with some of the innovations that wouldn't cost taxpayers more.

Sikora responded that every effort will be made to continue the 24/7 clearing of green routes next fall and winter. But he cautioned that the program will not be free from interruptions as fleet vehicles break down and require repairs, etc. and there will not be additional money budgeted for contracting or purchasing more fleet vehicles.

Transit stops could be cleared within four to 28 days (depending on the priority of that stop), sidewalks and staircases can be cleared a few times a year during times of low snowfall. And there will also be a focus on more traction control (sanding) of green routes, since this is important to the public.







Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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