Council approves boost to snow, ice clearing

Budget to be upped by $56,000

snow removal in Houston

Houston residents can look forward to boosted snow and ice clearing now that council has approved of a new hiring.

At a cost of $56,000, a permanent, part-time garbage collection operator will be hired, leading to an re-alignment of the District’s resources.

“This will free up one of our existing full time operators from Tuesday to Thursday to focus on snow removal and other core service delivery activities throughout the year,” explained District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck of council’s decision reached at its Dec. 15 meeting.

The hiring follows District staffers presenting council with a number of options arising from a proposal made by Councillor Tom Stringfellow several weeks ago.

Stringfellow had suggested hiring a seasonal equipment operator to “operate a snowblower to move volumes of snow from areas that are unreachable by larger equipment, such as curbs, parking areas, bus stops, accessible parking stalls, the Houston and Mountainview cemetery, sidewalks and the Buck Creek walking bridge.”

Staffers indicated the district has four fulltime equipment operators handling the District’s maintenance and core delivery of services.

During garbage collection days of Tuesday to Thursday, one of those four carries out that function, leaving the three to handle the other duties.

“The operators have 80 kilometres of road network and nine kilometres of sidewalk to maintain,” noted District operations manager Chris Lawrence in a detailed memo to council.

“With a sprawling community with many rural areas, this creates some challenges for the team to meet service levels,” he added of a snow and ice removal policy set in place in 2018.

Hiring a part time person to collect garbage then frees up that fourth full time person for snow removal and other duties.

Lawrence recommended this option which, at $56,000, represents the equivalent of a 1.33 per cent tax increase.

“This will enable the department to become more flexible and adaptable for small projects, address absences for vacation and illness, and increased response to requests year-round,” he wrote.

Lawrence did suggest a pool of casual equipment operators could be hired to work as needed, but added there is no guarantee they’d be available when required. That option would have cost $20,900.

A third option would have been to hire a permanent part time operator and establish a casual pool, costing $77,500.

As it is, the 2018 snow and ice clearing policy is under review with a full report slated for release next spring.

That policy sets out a list of Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3 roads with a first concentration within the downtown core. Under the first priority, clearing is to start after an accumulation of two inches of snow with roads in the second priority to be cleared after an accumulation of four inches of snow. For Priority 3 areas, clearing is to start after an accumulation of nine inches of snow.

Local resident Joanne Woodbeck, who is blind and who relies on a guide dog to navigate District sidewalks, said she was thrilled with the news of the hiring decision made by council.

“I would really like to express my gratitude to council and especially to [Councillor] Tom Stringfellow for advocating for this,” she said last week.

Woodbeck found herself completely lost and terrified following the mid-November heavy snowfall when accumulated snow on the sidewalks forced her and Jude off course.

It prompted her to write a letter to District operations letter asking that consideration be given to increasing the snow and ice clearing budget so that sidewalks could be cleared faster. The letter was included in the package of snow clearing budget information presented to council.

Woodbeck said she fielded phone calls, particularly from seniors, supporting her request to the District.

“What they told me is that you’re helping us too,” she said.