Two unrelenting winters in a row have hit Thunder Bay's city coffers hard, city council heard at a meeting Monday night — and now the city is looking elsewhere for ways to save money.
The city has a $4 million annual budget for clearing and sanding roads and sidewalks.
But that’s already been spent, said city manager Tim Commisso, who added the city also went over-budget on winter road maintenance by more than $2 million last year.
“We also had the flood in 2012 and, when you look at this, it's really … weather-related events that are having a dramatic impact on our budgets — for three years in a row now,” Commisso said.
Administration is proposing several options to help cover this year's shortfall. These include reviewing all non-essential capital projects, as well as deferring or eliminating new, full and part-time positions approved in the 2014 budget.
Those suggestions had Coun. Iain Angus concerned.
“While I appreciate the fact that we're going to have to find places to save money, I don't think it's appropriate or fair that, in effect, we end up punishing programs that had nothing to do with the weather,” he said.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson said the city has to be “realistic.”
“This is just a starting point of where we might have to go to,” she said. “It's not fun having to do this.”
Proposals for savings due next month
In an interview with CBC News after the meeting, Mayor Keith Hobbs said administration’s proposal to reduce winter plowing could be an option.
“If you look at [some] other cities ... [they] don't plow side streets, residential streets, so that's always an option," said Hobbs.
"I don't think that would go over very well in Thunder Bay, just given what I've received in the way of phone calls and concerns this year."
The city projects to be $3.5 million over budget on snow removal this year, if 2014 has similar weather patterns to 2013. That number includes the continued plowing of roads and sidewalks, as well as snow clearing and sanding at bus stops and city-owned facilities, as well as increased maintenance and parts for equipment.
The city maintains a reserve fund of about $2 million it can use for snow removal overruns, but it used the majority of that to cover last year's shortfall. Commisso said there's a little bit of money in the reserve right now, but not nearly enough to cover this year's spending.
Administration will bring its proposals for cost savings to council for approval on April 28.