Prairie Post (East Edition)
November snowstorm a major hit on City’s snow clearing budget
The large snowstorm in November blew a big hole in the City of Swift Current’s snow clearing budget.
The snowstorm hit the city and southwest Saskatchewan during the first weekend of November and caused significant disruptions to services.
Swift Current was hit by around 50 centimetres of snow and roads became difficult to navigate, resulting in the cancellation of classes in city and rural schools as well as the postponement of the Nov. 9 municipal and school board elections in Swift Current.
City General Manager of Infrastructure and Operations Mitch Minken provided details about the cost of the cleanup during a regular council meeting via video conference, Feb. 8.
He noted the snow clearing operation was a major effort that continued until close to Christmas, and it involved City staff and equipment as well as external contractors.
“Typically, we try to do as much as we can with internal resources, because it's always the most cost effective, but there are times when they're not adequate to deal with major snow events such as the one that we get in November,” he said. “So we have some additional funds to provide for contracted labour and equipment.”
The City’s total cost for snow removal in a typical year is around $450,000 for the entire period, which covers snow clearing from January to March and then again from October to December.
“As a result of this 2020 blizzard or snow event, both our internal and external costs exceeded our budget for that event, as you would expect,” he said.
The City’s 2020 snow removal budget included $85,500 for external contracted resources, but it was over budget by about $80,000 as a result of the November snowstorm.
The City spent a total of $496,305 on snow and ice control in November and December, of which $165,500 was spent on external, contracted labour. The additional cost for the external contractors was covered through the reallocation of unspent funds from the operating budget.
“Obviously the internal labour and equipment was utilized for the majority of the work,” he said. “It was greater than a typical year, but because it was all within our budgets there was no major budget implication. It's just a reallocation of where people worked.”
Mayor Al Bridal expressed appreciation towards one of the external contractors. MasTec Canada, an energy services contractor in Swift Current, made a grader available for snow clearing at no cost.
“They did not send an invoice to the City,” he said. “They just did it as a corporate donation. I just want to make sure everybody is aware of that. … They’ve seen us in trouble, the whole community in trouble, and they stepped up and put their grader on our roads with some direction from Mr. Minken to clean the roads that they were required to. So just a big thank you.”
Minken added that MasTec provided a grader for 25 to 30 hours free of charge, which represented a significant cost to the company.
“We estimate that grader was probably running at about $260 an hour,” he said. “So a very worthwhile help for us.”
Council members appreciate low COVID-19 numbers:
The number of active COVID-19 cases in southwest Saskatchewan is currently the lowest in the province and council members expressed appreciation towards residents for their efforts to follow public health guidelines.
There were only nine active cases in the southwest on the day of the council meeting and the number dropped even lower since then.
“I just want to commend and give a sincere thank you to all of our citizens who have just been doing a wonderful job of keeping our COVID numbers low,” Councillor Tom Christiansen said. “I'm checking that number every day for our local centres, as everyone is, and we're consistently leading the province in the fewest cases since the holiday season, and I just want to encourage everyone to keep it up and stay vigilant and help keep everyone safe.”
Mayor Al Bridal agreed with this remark and expressed gratitude towards residents for their efforts to limit the spread of the virus.
“All our citizens have been masking up and cleaning their hands, and our rates are way down,” he said. “And I know people say oh, you're sparsely populated. Well, there are lots of other places in the province that are as sparsely populated as us or even sparser and their numbers are way higher. So I think it's kudos to all of our citizens for doing what we've been asked.”
He also expressed a hope that the southwest region will not be neglected during the vaccination rollout.
“Every week there's a mayors’ call with one of the ministers from the province that's responsible for us, Don McMorris,” he said. “And I continually ask when are we getting vaccinations in Swift Current, and we're told we're doing such a good job that we're kind of on the end of the list for vaccinations.”
Councillor raises idea of change to garbage pickup schedule:
Councillor John Wall raised the idea of changes to the garbage pickup schedule as a means to achieve greater operational efficiencies in the City operations.
“I believe our City should continually be looking for efficiencies and I hope that's what we're doing,” he said. “I'm not sure if that is happening right now.”
He referred to the City of Regina as an example of an alternative way to do garbage pickup in a more efficient manner.
“I've been talking to somebody in Regina City Hall and they pick up their garbage every second week, and that starts in November and it goes to April,” he said. “So I think there would be a considerable amount of savings and efficiency and it also would promote recycling, and I hope that we can carry and discuss this further at other council meetings.”
Mayor supported this suggestion to look at alternative options, and he proposed that council members consider this idea during their upcoming planning meetings.