THUNDER BAY -- About $700,000 could help the city during harsh winters according to a report heading to city council Monday night.
The city's winter control budget has been running in the red since 2011 due to harsh winters and is expected to be more than $2.2 million short by the end of this year.
Based on a five-year average, which the city uses to determine its control budget, it's under-funded by a little more than $700,000. It's the reason administration is recommending council consider bumping it up by $700,000, bringing it to around $4.6 million, next budget season. Any money left over would be put in the city's winter control reserve fund to bring it back to at least $2 million.
"That should soften the blow if we do get severe winters again in the future," roads manager Brad Adams said.
It also recommends around $100,000 for route optimization software.
"If there's a savings there we could find out," Adams said.
The city would also go to a sand-only policy for it's more than 1,100 kilometres of residential streets. That wouldn't apply to the other 780 kilometres considered arterials and collectors. Salt would still be used on residential streets with curves, hills and during extreme weather.
"To make sure they're safe," Adams said.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson said the city, and the next term of council that would be approving the $700,000 ask, needs to take a serious look at its winter control given the past couple of seasons. But that money has to come from somewhere.
"If we're going to be putting more money into this particular budget then we have to seriously look at where we would decrease another budget," she said.
"We can't just keep bumping up our overall budget for these things."
Budgets aren't determined randomly but are evidence-based Coun. Andrew Foulds said. Given the past two years, the increase is a responsible one considering anysurplus woudl go back into the reserve fund to help the city prepare should it be hit by harsh winters in the future.
"This is about providing a quality service to the public that the public wants, that the public thinks is important. I am not prepared to cut service that would put peoples' lives at risk," Foulds said.
It's the reason Foulds won't support any of the options included in the report. The report also considers several other options that council could choose to adopt in the future. Currently residential streets are plowed after ten centimetres of snow. That could be bumped up to 15. The expected time to plow those streets, right now three days, could increase to four. Sidewalks would also not be plowed during overtime hours.
Adams said those options though are not currently being recommended but are being brought to council for discussion.
Coun. Paul Pugh said he couldn't support any initiative that would see reduced service for people. This term of council has done well to support the city's infrastructure but it also needs to keep services in mind.
"The other side of it is the services people need and we can't forget that," he said.
With a background in economics, Pugh said he's kept a close eye on the city's books and doesn't see any logical reason why council would consider reducing services.
"The city is not in any kind of financial difficulty," he said.
The council agenda, and the winter control report, can be found here.