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At this past week’s budget meeting there were a few questions of Staff. One of the questions raised concerned snow removal services this year. It probably related to the snowfall we received last Sunday where the streets were pretty ‘dirty’, at least when I ventured out at about 4:00 PM. This was pretty much in the middle of a snowfall that dumped about 15 cm of snow, following a larger amount the day before. I wasn’t too surprised. Even Bowes Street was only partially plowed and there was more snow falling.

The Director of Public Works response can be heard on the Budget Meeting video available through the Town’s website on YouTube. In summary, his response was that performance met and exceeded provincial guidelines and that Staff were tapped out at that point in terms of hours worked dealing with the snowfall over the previous few days. There are regulations in terms of the hours that personnel can work, and that limit had been reached.

The discussion then turned to the possibility of hiring temporary workers to manage these snow events. It turns out that adding contract workers is not that simple in terms of existing labour contracts and the requirement to have qualified individuals. It seemed there was an interest on the part of at least one member of Council to look at increasing the level of service for snow management. Let’s take a look at what that might cost.

Before we get to the numbers, let’s remember that you can have any two of Price, Quality and Schedule. An attractive price on a quality item might require you to wait for it’s delivery because if it’s a bargain it’s probably in short supply. Or you can have a good price and quick delivery, but suffer in terms of quality. In the case of Parry Sound snow removal we are getting good quality snow removal at an acceptable price. But we don’t get it as quickly as some would like. Alternatively, we might be able to get quicker snow removal if we were willing to sacrifice quality, possibly operator, equipment, public and property safety, at the current price. If we want to get current quality levels and quicker snow removal, we will need to pay more. So how much more? Here‘s a back of the napkin calculation:

Additional Expenses:

3 Additional staff @ $100,000* – $300,000 per year
1 Additional 20-Ton Truck @$200,000 – $45,000** per year
1 2-Ton Truck with Blade @$60,000 – $15,000 per year**
1 Additional Sidewalk Plow @$170,000 – $35,000** per year
Additional Salt and sand – $15,000 per year

Total ~ $400,000 per year

This total of $400,000 per year additional cost when compared with the current snow budget of about $1 million per year seems in the right ball park.

There would be some other benefits from this increased investment in Public Works. Because the additional staff would be hired for a full year it is likely that Public Works could take on additional projects in the non-snow months, or even provide summer support for to the Parks and Recreation department, providing an overall better level of service to Town of Parry Sound businesses and residents. It might also mean that there would be less need for summer students, a savings of perhaps $30,000.

Assuming some savings in work contracted out to non-Town employees and fewer summer students, it’s possible that the burden of cost might drop to an additional $350,000 per year. On a property tax basis this would translate into a 3.5% increase in taxes. Residents paying $3,000 per year in property taxes would see an increase of perhaps $100 per year. Depending on individual assessments, some would pay more, and others less.

Before I started this short analysis I thought it would be more expensive than that. Adding more staff and getting better snow management services, plus better services all year round, might just be a bargain. If you agree, you might want to contact a member of Council and share your thoughts on where additional services are needed.

I’ll have comments on the 2018 Budget next week.

Cost Estimate Comments:

* – salary, benefits, training, vacation, etc.
** – assumed lifetime of 6-years, including interest, maintenance, fuel

In theory, the existing equipment could be used 24/7 if there was additional staff to operate the machines, and there was support for the necessary maintenance. The equipment would have a reduced lifetime when compared with the current budget. Wear and tear is more related to distance and hours, not whether a plow is pushing 10 cm or 20 cm of snow. It probably makes sense to have more equipment to provide more timely service than have one set of personnel waiting for their shift to start if more people on the streets would improve service and better meet the Public’s expectations. A broken piece of equipment upsets any well planned schedule.