Winter maintenance overspent

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

The tri-cities are feeling the economic weight of the heavy snowfall southern Ontario received last winter.

As of Nov. 17, Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge had overspent their winter maintenance budgets for 2014 by a combined $1.25 million.

Representatives of the City of Kitchener and City of Waterloo explained the difficulty of budgeting for a service that is dependent on mother nature.

“Last winter was one of the heaviest snow accumulations, coldest temperatures and number of snow event scenarios that we’ve seen in the recent past,” said Scott Berry, manager of maintenance operations in the infrastructure services department at the City of Kitchener.

Kitchener’s budget for winter maintenance in 2014 was $5.3 million. So far, they have a projected over-expenditure of $900,000. The City of Waterloo’s winter maintenance budget for 2014 was $1.68 million. By mid-November, their over-expenditure was $135,000.

Both Berry and Roslyn Lusk, director of transportation services at the City of Waterloo, attributed the overspending to the harsh winter the cities were hit with from 2013 and into 2014.

Lusk explained that Waterloo experienced 25 days below -25⁰C. The average for most winters is six days below those temperatures. Additionally, the City of Waterloo received two metres of snow between Nov. 20, 2013 and Mar. 31, 2014.

The City of Kitchener sets its winter maintenance budget based on the previous year’s budget plus an increase approved by council, which Berry said is usually between one and two per cent.

“While we have a budget and that budget should be substantial in most years, last year showed that given greater than average winter events to respond to that our budget will be over accordingly,” said Berry.

Most of their over-expenditure was due to snow loading, which was a direct result of the volume of snow the city received.

The city has to comply with legislative minimum maintenance standards from the province for how much of the road must be clear of snow. With more snow, the more difficult — and necessary — this task becomes.

Berry explained that the City of Kitchener doesn’t have a specific reserve for winter that would be dipped into for instances like this. Instead, the money will probably come from the tax stabilization reserve. The final decision will be made at the end of the year by council.

Kitchener’s budget for 2015 is $5.5 million, which is a normal increase.

“Honestly, we don’t expect that kind of — there’s no use funding those activities at that level because you don’t expect to have to operate on those kinds of weather on a year after year basis,” said Berry.

Berry continued that there are no changes that need to be made for next year.

An increase of snow just means more ploughing, more de-icing which results in more overtime, more materials and more fuel.

“All those things are happening in a very busy year and that’s just why we’re here, that’s our job,” said Berry.

Lusk explained that Waterloo’s budget is based on a five-year average.

“When you do a five-year average, we’re accounting for the years where we underspend and accounting for the years where we overspend and you try to find somewhere in the middle,” Lusk said.

The years where they underspend, the money goes into a reserve. This is where the $135,000 will come from this year.

“We have about $300,000 in our reserve, so we should be fine. We still have six weeks until the end of the year, but right now we look okay.”

For the future, she continued, they will have to hope for a few milder winters so the reserve can be replenished again.

The budget for 2015 has yet to be decided; Lusk said it will be approved by council in February. This budget will average out the past five years including 2014, but they are also putting in an additional request to assist with winter control costs moving forward.

“We’re ready to go,” said Lusk, referring to the event that more snow arrives before the end of the budget year.

“We’re covered, we have our reserve. We’re not in great shape, but we’re in okay shape.”

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