The District of Houston continues to refine its snow clearing policy, this time setting out a list of sidewalks for what it calls Priority 1 attention.
And it is doing an internal shuffle of its public works budget to pay for the increased service this coming winter season.
The shift of sidewalks to Priority 1 means that clearing would start when there’s an accumulation of two inches of snow, a change from the current Priority 2 requirement which is four inches.
Council began amending its snow clearing priorities and spending earlier this year by creating a working foreman position in June and partially financing it by using money allocated for an equipment operator to be hired as a casual.
But that working foreman position remains unfilled, meaning council is now directing approximately $45,000 in unspent wages to hire an additional equipment operation for the 2021-2022 winter snowclearing season.
The plan is that this person would concentrate on sidewalks, allowing the District’s current roster of equipment operators to clear roads, corporate services officer Holly Brown and interim operations manager Roland Ofner outlined in a six-page memo of snowclearing options and costs to council.
“It is important to note that this position would work Monday-Friday, providing eight hours of sidewalk snow clearing per day,” Brown and Ofner wrote.
A desire for weekend snowclearing coverage for Priority 1 road routes only is being met by increasing the operational budget by $13,641.
That’s assuming “the District needed to call one person in once per weekend over five months,” Brown and Ofner indicated of the cost.
“It is important to note that this amount [for weekend clearing] only considers Priority 1 road clearing, and if Council wanted to include weekend sidewalk clearing, additional funding would be needed,” they added.
The list of Priority 1 sidewalks to be added to the District’s snow clearing policy includes:
– West Copeland Ave.
– North 9th Street
– South 9th Street
– West Butler Avenue from Hwy16 to 11th Street
– Southwest 14th Street
– East Mountainview Drive from 14th to Hagman
– North 10th Street
– South 10th Street
– West Poulton Avenue from 9th to 11th
– East Poulton from 9th to 11th
– North 11th from Copeland to Butler
– Hagman from Mountainview Drive to Pearson
The sidewalks on both sides of Hwy16 are being assigned to the Priority 2 list because there is no practical way for the District’s crews to coordinate times with the provincial government contractor clearing the highway itself.
“It could result in road snow being plowed up onto the sidewalks after we have them cleaned resulting in our staff having to do it over again,” explained Brown.
Houston residents last had a chance to have their say on snow clearing during the 2021 budget survey when it was tied for first as a top important service to the community.
But 23.7 per cent rate the service as very poor, 26.8 per cent as poor, 26.8 per cent as satisfactory and 19.5 per cent as good.
One-third of survey respondents who approved of a tax increase of more than 2.5 per cent indicated they wanted the money to go to more snow removal.
The District spent $279,115 on snow removal in the 2020 calendar year, $218,418 in 2019 and $ 367,796 in 2018. Those figures include contracting out when required.