The Town of The Blue Mountains is facing major new costs to bring sidewalk snow plowing in-house as a municipal service.
Council at its committee of the whole meeting on June 27 voted unanimously to approve a staff recommendation to make sidewalk snow clearing a municipal program. The change has a high price tag with new operating expenses estimated at $540,000 per year and capital costs to purchase the machines, a truck to transport them and buildings to house them estimated at $2,280,000.
The move will also require hiring five operators and a lead hand/spare to be added to the town’s complement of full-time staff. In the summer, four of the staff will be assigned to the roads and drainage department, while two will be assigned to the parks department.
“It’s a big number,” Manager of Roads and Drainage Jim McCannell said. “We have had better experience using our own staff. We get a better level of service.
Currently, the town provides snow removal on 20.23 km of sidewalks around town through contracts with the private sector. A total of 10.78 km of sidewalks receive no winter maintenance, there are 4.58 km of private sidewalks and 10.65 km that have not been assumed by the town.
Bringing the service in-house will require the purchase of five sidewalk snow removal machines and buildings at locations in Craigleith and Thornbury to store them. Staff said they believed the town’s facility at Tomahawk could be used for the Thornbury/Clarksburg routes and a new building would have to be built in Craigleith. A full report with options will return to council in the near future.
“This is part of our community transforming. We have a lot of sidewalks and we should plow them all,” said Mayor Alar Soever.
Staff explained that bringing sidewalk snow removal in-house would ensure continuity of service for the community. In recent years, insurance rates for private contractors have skyrocketed and it’s becoming more difficult to get contractors to provide snow removal services.
“We’re finding we’re paying a real premium for these services,” said McCannell.
Offering the staff full-time positions year-round is a benefit to the town in terms of recruiting good candidates.
The resolution passed by council would see sidewalk snow clearing become a full municipal service on November 1, 2024. Council also asked staff to look at possible private sector partnerships as part of their deliberations on the matter. A full range of options and financial requirements for the project will be discussed during the 2023 budget deliberations.