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Salmon Arm blows through snow removal budget

Winter costs: This winter saw the city fork out $150,000 more than the five-year average for snow control on roads and sidewalks. - Martha Wickett/Observer
Winter costs: This winter saw the city fork out $150,000 more than the five-year average for snow control on roads and sidewalks.
— image credit: Martha Wickett/Observer

Attempts to improve the city’s clearing of ice and snow last year resulted in some piling up of expenses and a depletion of the city’s snow control reserve.

From January through December 2013, the city’s snow control program tallied an $826,600 bill, about $150,000 over the five-year average of $675,414.

While the 2014 budget will be increased to $770,000, which more closely reflects the actual costs of prior years, the money to cover the extra costs in 2013 will come from the snow and ice control reserve – $100,000 – and $30,000 from an insurance reallocation. That will nearly deplete the reserve, which stood at $105,866 at the end of 2013.

Monica Dalziel, the city’s chief financial officer, explained that council will have to consider replenishing the reserve as part of the budget process in November 2014.

In 2012, she said, council increased the maximum amount for the reserve from $200,000 to $300,000, but that amount was never reached because the actual costs of snow removal did not come in under budget – there was no extra.

Dalziel said it’s happened at least once, in 2006 or ’07,  that the reserve was depleted and then replenished over time.

“It’s like a safety net.”

Rob Niewenhuizen, director of engineering and public works, told the city’s April 7 meeting of the planning and development services committee that an increased use of salt and liquid magnesium chloride, as well as a change in shifting, were responsible for the bulk of the increase.

He said best practices for snow and ice control include the use of liquid magnesium chloride prior to snowfalls as an anti-icing agent to prevent black ice and to reduce snow bonding to the road. They also include using salt instead of sand to get roads back to bare pavement during or within a few hours of the snowfall.

Regarding the change in shifting, it involved adding two more staff, from 12 to 14, to provide 24-hour coverage six days a week, from Monday through Saturday.

For Sunday, one member of the crew works an on-call shift from 11 p.m. Saturday to 11 p.m. Sunday, receiving two hours of pay per day at straight time (for being on standby) and a minimum of two hours double time to do an early morning road check or, when needed, to respond to snow or slippery roads. Employees called out on the weekend or called out prior to their scheduled shift are paid double time until their normal shift starts.

Niewenhuizen said modifications in 2014 to reduce costs will include a shorter shifting schedule, and more selective application of salt and liquid magnesium chloride.

Coun. Debbie Cannon emphasized her wish for seven days per week coverage.

“Have we looked at contracting out on Sunday so we don’t pay double time?” she asked, adding she knows lots of unions that work Sundays.

Niewenhuizen said the options are to pay a premium for one person to be on call, or to hire two more people – who might not have enough work – to be on shift for the four months needed.

Coun. Denise Reimer said she would look forward to looking at the numbers.

“We would probably find paying someone overtime would be less than paying for two new staff members.”

Coun. Alan Harrison said he thinks staff did a really good job keeping the roads safe this past winter.

“I think a lot of residents don’t know snow removal is such a science. A lot of thought is going into seeing we use our dollars the best we can.”

Niewenhuizen explained that the plowing and sanding routes total approximately 500 kilometres of driving lane (both sides of the road), plus an additional 100-km of miscellaneous access roads and back alleys that must be cleaned for garbage and recycling pick-up.

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