Heavy winter weather hitting snow clearing budgets hard

The city announced Monday it will focus resources on clearing snow-clogged streets after weeks of heavy snowfall saw plows focused on main roads.

The amount of snow that has fallen on the heads of Canadians and the sidewalks and streets of Canadian cities this winter has been staggering. Several cities have reported monthly records of snowfall, specifically during the December storm that hit much of Ontario and Eastern Canada.

And the pressure this has placed on Canadian cities is seen nowhere better than overwhelmed snow clearing budgets.

This winter's wicked ways are not yet behind us. Indeed, more may be yet to come for some cities. But already towns across Canada are facing empty coffers due to snow clearing expenses.

Toronto, for example, budgets about $80 million for snow removal every year. Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong told the Globe and Mail that, seven weeks into the new budget year, the city might already be running over budget.

It may be too soon to calculate the damage done to 2014 budgets, but it could be bad if 2013 is any indication.

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The most recent Canadian city to see red over the excess of white stuff is Winnipeg, where about five centimetres of extra snow fell on Sunday, further inundating an already inundated community.

Residents complained to CTV News about snow piled seven feet high in front of some houses. This comes months amid a particularly troublesome year for Winnipeg snow clearance.

According to the Winnipeg Sun, one councillor even proposed changing the way the city paid its snow clearing bills. Instead of establishing a set budget each year, the proposal would add an amount to the quarterly water bill, allowing the city to increase or decrease fee to residents based on how much snow had to be cleared during that period.

Winnipeg, it should be noted, spent a reported $12.4 million more on snow clearing than had been budgeted by the city in 2013. And they weren’t alone on that front.

Windsor, Ont., has seen a record amount of snowfall this winter – including a deluge of 86.4 centimetres in January. The city has a $3.5 million budget for snow clearing and council approved an additional $1 million.

A late-December snowstorm cost Ottawa $12 million. That city spent $69.9 million for snow clearance in 2013, a total $24.4 million over budget, though much of that was attributed to the second half of last winter.

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Regina reported spending $10 million on snow clearing in 2013 – about $4 million over budget.Camrose, Alta., reached its snow clearing budget of $625,000 by mid-November and expected to go $275,000 over budget.

Some 54 Nova Scotia municipalities were expecting cost overruns; St. John’s, Newfoundland, went $98,000 over budget in the first 10 days of 2014. Calgary was on pace to spend one-third of this year’s $34 million snow-clearing budget in January alone.

Now, midway through February, a fresh round of snowfall expected this week could bring snow clearing efforts back under the spotlight.

Accuweather forecasts up to five centimetres of snowfall in southern Ontario beginning Tuesday evening and a heavy band of snowfall through much of Atlantic Canada on Wednesday.

Saskatchewan is expected to see between five and 10 centimetres of snow through Wednesday.

Most cities run a surplus and fill reserve funds during quiet winters, limiting the impact that tough times have on bottom lines. But sometimes, it can't be helped. Better preparation can ease some of the pressure, but there isn’t much that can be done when heavy snowfall surprises even the most organized cities.