Second December snowstorm buries Winnipeg's projected surplus
City was planning to use unspent 2016 money to cover expenses in 2017, but that's now up in the air
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.
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"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.