Snow-removal savings help city slide through year with surplus

Snow-removal savings help city slide through year with surplus

A lack of snow in the Edmonton region this winter is saving the city a heap of maintenance money.

The city spent approximately $64 million less on all city operations than budgeted for in 2016, and 40 per cent of those savings are being chalked up to a mild season on city roads.

Due to unseasonably mild weather, the city's fleet of snowplows and sand trucks sat largely idle throughout the autumn and early winter months, cutting road maintenance costs by more than $25 million.

On average, temperatures hovered a degree and half above seasonal norms and snowfall was 67 per cent below average levels recorded by Environment Canada. 

"Mother Nature clearly gave us a helping hand this past year," Todd Burge, Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer said in a statement. "However, the results overall show that we continue to manage our finances on residents' behalf for long-term sustainability, flexibility and responsiveness to emerging needs."

Another $8.3 million in savings last year came from personnel costs, by cutting back on overtime and not filling vacant positions. Another $5.9 million was saved in consulting costs due to rescheduled projects, the city said.

The remaining balance of the savings, $38.3 million, represents 1.5 per cent of the overall 2016 operating budget, city administration said in a news release.

Surplus funds are not used to reduce property taxes. Instead, the money goes into a financial stabilization reserve for "extraordinary circumstances or emergent financial issues," the city said.

The reserve "acts as a risk management fund" for snow removal and other volatile spending. But surplus funds can also be redirected to programs and initiatives, and a report outlining the full year-end results was provided to city council on Thursday.

In each of the past three years, council directed $3.5 million to Edmonton's plan for affordable housing.

2016 is the fifth straight year the city has seen a budget surplus.