by Colin Smith
The extreme winter conditions Morinville has suffered means $75,000 more is needed in the snow and ice control budget.
Jordan Betteridge, the town’s infrastructure services manager, made the case for the additional funding in a presentation at the council meeting Tuesday.
“This past month has been challenging,” Betteridge said. “We are all frustrated as a team that we were unable to keep up with the service levels that the town expects. But I can stand here and say that we’ve been doing our best.”
Response to the problems with snow and ice clearing has also not been helpful, with town employees facing challenges and lack of support.
“We’re caught in the middle between extreme weather and high citizen expectations,” Betteridge told council. “While on the other side we must be responsible with our budget and provide a manageable environment for our staff.”
He noted that planning for snow and ice control is based on average weather, not extremes, so that when extremes occur additional support may be required.
Betteridge pointed to the factors that determine the nature of the town’s snow and ice control response, including provisions of the Municipal Government Act and Occupiers Liability Act, and Morinville’s snow and ice control policy.
There are also operational capacities, which depend on staff, materials, equipment and contractors.
This year’s extreme weather events have included -40 degree weather, major snow accumulation, freezing rain, freeze-thaw cycles and high winds that have piled up snowdrifts.
“We’ve already hauled more snow in January than in all of last year combined,” Betteridge said.
In addition, they’ve had to contend with staff shortages, equipment breakdowns and supply shortages.
The sheer volume of citizen complaints has become an issue, with more than 170 of them overloading administrative staff. Another problem is that of residents ignoring street parking restrictions.
Along with the need for an extra $75,000 for snow and ice removal during the rest of the year, including November and December, Betteridge had some recommendations for improving service, including updating Morinville’s snow and ice control policy and moving it from being an administrative to a council policy.
He underlined the need for effective snow and ice control by pointing to a 2021 Supreme Court of Canada decision that found the Town of Nelson liable for injuries suffered by a woman as a result of poor snow and ice control decisions.
The additional $75,000 for snow and ice control has been included among the items that council wants to see in a new draft 2022 budget to be presented to it by the administration early next month.
Later in the meeting, Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe put forward a motion directing administration to bring Morinville’s current snow and ice control policy to council at an upcoming committee of the whole meeting for review and discussion.
“We all know the issues we’ve had this year with snow and ice removal,” Dafoe said. “My intent is for all of us on council to become familiar with what we have in the policy. Maybe we can look at it and have some changes.”
He noted the importance of regular policy reviews, at least every three or four years, as underlined by the recent Supreme Court Nelson decision.
“It’s timely and I think it can hopefully put us on a better path for next year because I don’t think this weird snow and ice is a one-off,” Dafoe said. “I think we’re in for this kind of weather for the long haul.”
The motion to have the policy brought forward to council’s March 15 committee of the whole meeting passed unanimously.