Sidewalk clearing budget boosted by $9.5M after snowy, icy winter

Calgary city council has approved a one-time budget increase of $9.5 million for sidewalk snow and ice removal this coming winter.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek says she was moved by emotional stories of people falling, slipping

Calgary city council has agreed to boost its sidewalk clearing budget by $9.5 million for the coming winter. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Calgary city council has approved a one-time budget increase of $9.5 million for sidewalk snow and ice removal this coming winter.

This past winter's icy, snowy sidewalks are still on the minds of many, despite the current summer weather.

Local hospitals reported more than 300 slip-and-fall injuries, says a report from city administration. Residents spoke out about being isolated at home, and staff said the consistent, heavy snowfall almost drained coffers.

The budget increase of $9.5 million is a big jump from the city's 2017 budget for sidewalk clearing, which was $3.5 million. The goal is to improve sidewalk clearing to ensure sidewalks and wheelchair ramps are cleared more thoroughly and quickly, staff said.

On Monday, administration went to council looking for the funding boost, which comes from the fiscal stability reserve fund, so they can be ready for snow before next November's budget debate.

"This is a really big amount of money and it's a really big deal and council really was very unified on that, which I found a bit surprising," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said outside council.

Their request passed, with only Coun. Evan Woolley opposed. He expressed concern that the reserve fund for snow and ice clearing still had money in it that could be used for sidewalks. 

Staff argued the department's reserve fund is too low, down to $3.5 million after the winter.

'We lag behind'

Coun. Jyoti Gondek led the committee that developed the pitch, which involved hearing from citizens. She said the testimonies were so emotional, the committee had to take breaks.

One person said they fell out out of their wheelchair, due to a messy sidewalk, and another person broke a leg in a fall.

"You're staring them right in the face when they're telling you these stories. It is absolutely our responsibility as councillors to do the right thing for the citizens of our city," Gondek said.

"I understand we need to focus on the dollars. That is absolutely important, but we also need to realize that we lag behind other places."

Alberta's slip-and-fall injury rate is three times that of Ontario, making it the second highest in Canada, a report from administration noted. City property sidewalks are inconsistently cleared, the report found, and wheelchair ramps and laneway crossings are often impassable.

Calgary's snow-clearing budget was $39.2 million in 2017, less than the $63.7 million spent in Edmonton and $69.2 million in Ottawa, the staff report found. In Calgary, roughly 8.6 per cent of that budget is allocated to snow and ice clearing on sidewalks, whereas other municipalities spend between 12 and 21 per cent.

Gondek said that tells her that while councillors want high standards for snow clearing, they "don't have the guts to fund it."

Not good enough, mayor says

Nenshi encouraged councillors to think about whether the overall snow and ice budget should be increased dramatically in the future.

He noted that in 2011, the budget was boosted by a third to improve road clearing, and he said complaints plummeted. Perhaps, he suggested, more money would help the city really buckle down on improving winter sidewalk safety.

"Because clearly we're not doing a good enough job and we're not doing a job that citizens expect from us," Nenshi told council.

Hear from Coun. Druh Farrell speaking about snow clearing before Monday's vote:

We talk to Councillor Druh Farrell about a series of proposals from city administation for improving snow and ice removal in Calgary 8:25

He also noted the recent city climate change report found fewer freeze-thaw cycles are expected in the city in coming years, which will likely lead to high snow removal costs.

Shovelling fines considered

City council was also asked to require homeowners to clear the sidewalks that cross alleyways next to their property but that motion failed in a vote, nine to six. Instead, staff will research a variety of options to address alleyway winter safety.

Administration will also develop recommendations on adding fines for residents who don't shovel their walks.

Currently, the city can clear a homeowner's walk if they fail to do so within 24 hours. The homeowner is billed for the service. Should there be a bylaw change, the fine would be in addition to that snow-clearling bill.

Administration is scheduled to report back on the recommended fines on July 30.


With files from Scott Dippel.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.