Snow has yet to fall in Kamloops, but a storm was brewing at city hall on Tuesday afternoon when the topic of snow removal returned to council chambers.
Staff asked council to earmark in its 2019 provisional budget $400,000 for additional snow removal equipment and staff, something discussed with the previous council in June. Staff told council additional resources are required to serve the city’s expanded road network and noted more complaints as a result of increasing public engagement.
Coun. Denis Walsh, however, was critical of the staff report. He could not reconcile hiring three staff members for snow removal year-round.
“You’ve never made a business case for why we need three people seven months of the year,” Walsh said.
The city’s streets manager, Glen Farrow, said the staff would be busy improving streets year-round. Additional work would include filling potholes or sweeping. In addition to increasing demand for snow clearing, Farrow said the city’s pothole complaints have also doubled and councillors agreed the issue was brought up repeatedly during the campaign trail.
Civic operations director Jen Fretz said the report could have been more clear, but stressed the need.
“I assure you we are not hiring people to sit around and look for work,” Fretz said.
Also at issue for Walsh was the fact the report had initially been for information, but was changed before the meeting to include a recommendation. He tried to postpone the matter until the next council meeting, but received no support from fellow councillors. One idea he wanted fleshed out was improved service on weekends and he suggested contracting out the services. As it stands, city staff are on standby through the weekend and earn double time pay when dispatched with about a half-hour turnaround. Friday night storms have been commonplace, Farrow noted, and snow removal overtime so far this year is about $160,000.
“We need to hire people for the weekend,” Walsh said.
Coun. Bill Sarai asked if sidewalk and street plowing could better sync up, due to concern over the condition of sidewalks in the winter.
Farrow said additional staffing would result in more use of two sidewalk sweepers. Mayor Ken Christian noted that sidewalks in front of private property are the responsibility of property owners.
While Kamloops has already used up its 2018 snow removal budget, Farrow said the city has benefitted from bare streets so far this fall.
“We’re in a very good position and we’re thankful for that,” he said.
Council ultimately approved the recommendation for more snow-removal cash, with Walsh the lone councillor to oppose. Christian and councillors Sadie Hunter, Dale Bass, Mike O’Reilly, Kathy Sinclair, Dieter Dudy and Sarai voted in favour. Coun. Arjun Singh was absent.
Sinclair called the measure a “first step” and said staff had done a considerable amount of self-reflection after recent snowy years.
A final decision on the overall budget will be made in the spring.