Manitoba

Second December snowstorm buries Winnipeg's projected surplus

The holiday-weekend snowstorm didn't just bury Winnipeg's streets and sidewalks. The city's hopes for a year-end surplus were all but obliterated by the second major snowfall of December.

City was planning to use unspent 2016 money to cover expenses in 2017, but that's now up in the air

This week's snow-clearing operation, in combination with an early-December cleanup, is expected to wipe out the remaining snow-clearing budget for the year - and with it, an expected transfer of surplus funds to the 2017 budget. (CBC News)

The holiday-weekend snowstorm didn't just bury Winnipeg's streets and sidewalks.

The city's hopes for a year-end surplus were all but obliterated by the second major snowfall of December.

One month ago, the city had about $10 million left in its $33.5-million snow-clearing budget for 2016 and was hoping to end the year with an overall budget surplus roughly equal to that amount.

The 2017 budget approved by council on Dec. 13 calls for a $9.5-million transfer from the 2016 budget to help cover off $1.08 billion worth of operating expenses next year.

That transfer is now in jeopardy thanks to a pair of snow-clearing efforts in early December and this week. A full snow-clearing operation costs the city $6 to $7 million. The expense will likely erase what remained of the snow-clearing budget and possibly eat into other funds.

"This will have a detrimental effect on the projected surplus for 2016. We don't know the final numbers, of course, because we're still tallying up the expenses from the snowfall in early December and now we've been hit with the second one," said St. James-Brooklands-Weston Coun. Scott Gillingham, city council's finance chairman.

He said once all the accounting for 2016 is complete — the city's final financial status report for the year is due in February — city council and corporate-finance officials will have to figure out what to do with a smaller transfer of surplus funds or perhaps no transfer at all.

Gillingham, who was appointed finance chairman after the budget was almost complete, said the city is usually safe in planning to transfer funds from one budget year to the next.

"You get a snowfall like this maybe once a year, sometimes every couple of years. We've had two snowfalls of this amount of around 30 centimetres in December alone. That's unusual, so it's hard to budget for something like that," he said.

The city's snow-clearing operation is expected to last several more days. Public works spokesman Ken Allen said Tuesday morning that half the city's regional and collector streets have been cleared, along with sidewalks and bike trails along those routes.

Back-lane clearing began Tuesday morning in areas scheduled for garbage and recycling pickup, he added. The city will issue a warning before it begins clearing residential streets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.

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