The long, snowy winter is proving expensive for Central Alberta communities.
And with snow still falling in April, no removal budget is safe.
The City of Red Deer has already overshot its entire 2014 budget by nearly $600,000. To date, $5.173 million has been spent, compared to the $4.589 million budgeted.
By year end, Red Deer officials expect the number to climb as high as $7.9 million for snow removal. The budget for 2015 has already been approved at $5.1 million.
Public works manager Greg Sikora says there are a number of ways they can make up the difference, including dipping into a reserve fund if necessary or looking to other areas of the department’s $10-million budget.
“When we show unfavourable variances in our operations, the first line of approach is to look at cost-saving options within the department,” he said.
If the savings cannot be found in the department, the city will look for money in other areas.
For the calendar year 2013, Red Deer spent $4.879 million for snow removal, more than $1.4 million over its budget of $3.435 million.
The snowfall this winter was unlike anything Red Deer has seen in at least 13 years. Environment Canada figures show that most years, between December and January the city averages 49.9 cm of accumulated snow, with as little as 15 cm and as much as 73 cm. This year, the city received 127.1 cm.
By the end of March, 194.7 cm had fallen, more than 80 cm more than the average of 113.2 cm.
And it wasn’t just the amount of snow that caused expenses to skyrocket — the type of snow and type of accumulation led to more difficulty in removing it.
“Rather than plowing roads, we were chipping and removing ice and ice pack, so it was a more labourious program,” said Sikora.
Now the city must figure out how to deal with the mountains of snow at its storage facilities. If left unattended, the accumulation will still be there as giant blocks of ice by next winter. The plan is grade it out to a larger surface area to expedite the melting.
“What we need is to have enough storage space for next year to provide for our average snow accumulation, or better,” said Sikora.
Red Deer was not alone in its failed attempt to budget for one of the heaviest snowfalls in a generation.
The Town of Olds carried a budget of $80,000 in both 2013 and 2014, but spent $254,000 through December 2013 and has already spent $192,000 this year. To make up the difference, there will be a three per cent tax increase, resulting in about $250,000 to the snow removal reserve.
“We did the entire town twice this year, which doesn’t usually happen,” said chief administrative officer Norm McInnis. “People just could not get around.”
Sylvan Lake’s snow removal budget is included in several different departments. It has climbed a combined $170,000 the last couple of years, said communications officer Joanne Gaudet. In 2013 alone, the town was $175,025 over budget due to snow removal.
“It’s always tricky (to budget snow removal), but it’s even trickier to look at this year as the anomaly and not use this year as a baseline for future budgets,” said Gaudet.
Innisfail, had not yet calculated the final cost of snow removal but staff acknowledge they had already chewed through the entire budget for contracted work, $20,000, for the calendar year. The entire snow removal budget is blended into the public works budget.
“We do have contingencies and reserves we can look at,” said Craig Teal, the town’s director of planning and operational services.