October storm cleanup costs hit $7.9M and counting

Two days of heavy snow and rain damaged tens of thousands of trees and are costing the city millions to clean up.

Multiple cities sent crews to help deal with damage from early snowstorm

The City of Winnipeg will likely have to dig into fiscal reserves to cover the costs of a fall snowstorm. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

As crews continue to cut their way through thousands of fallen branches and trees, the bill for the October snow and ice storm are weighing heavily on the City of Winnipeg's budget.

Staff estimate a preliminary tally of $6.2 million for the cleanup and other costs associated with the two-day dump of heavy snow and rain.

It is projected the city will spend a further $1.7 million clearing debris before the end of the year, with more expenses to come next year.

"I'm optimistic we may still see some improvement in our financial position, but the cost associated with the storm is going to make it challenging to end [with the city's budget] in balance," said finance chair Scott Gillingham.

Crews from Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto came to help clear the debris and take down high-risk trees and limbs.

The gloomy numbers are part of the latest report to the city's finance committee.

There is no estimate provided for what expenses the city might incur in 2020 related to the storm cleanup. Last month Mayor Brian Bowman speculated the entire cost of the storm could be in "the tens of millions of dollars."

Winnipeg is waiting for the province of Manitoba to open a disaster financial assistance claim with the federal government so it might recover some of the expenses related to the storm.

"There is no doubt there are costs associated with the storm that are over and above the regular operations of our departments," Gillingham said Monday.

"If there is disaster financial assistance, it would certainly help with the city's financial position."

So far the provincial government has not signalled whether it will start that process.

Ultimately the city will have to draw on its financial stabilization reserve fund in order to make up the difference in the budget.

There are, however, wide swings in revenue and spending for the city and it often runs a deficit in the months leading up to the year end before balancing its books.

The city has approximately $103 million in its fiscal stabilization fund and Gillingham said it will likely be used to balance the books (as required under legislation).

The red ink in the city's public works department is not restricted to the storm cleanup.

The city's snow-clearing budget for the year has run far past estimates and the city is now projecting a  $12,192,000 shortfall in funding for snow expenditures for the year.

Street sweep? 

There also is a motion working its way through the committee system calling for a one-time fall residential street sweep to clean up extra leaves and debris that may clog the city's sewer drains.

Annual fall residential street sweeping was cancelled in 2015 as a cost-saving measure. The city estimates it would cost $300,000 to bring it back this fall.

Gillingham said he would much prefer that residents get out and clear off sewer drains on their streets.

"I acknowledge not everyone is going to that — take a shovel and a wheelbarrow, whatever the case may be, and just do that — [but] I do see a lot of residents assisting in that way," he said.

The finance committee will hear more about the possibility of a street sweep from city staff on Friday.