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St. John’s city staff recommend no changes to sidewalk snowclearing

In this file photo, a City of St. John’s snow-clearing crew member clears and salts a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue. The city released its feedback document Friday based on public engagement about sidewalk snowclearing in the city. SaltWire File Photo
In this file photo, a City of St. John’s snow-clearing crew member clears and salts a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue. SaltWire File Photo - Glen Whiffen

Froude says he’ll advocate for improvements

Just one month after the city released the findings of its sidewalk snowclearing engagement, city staff are recommending no changes for this winter.

That’s despite engagement findings that a significant majority of residents surveyed were supportive of the city making winter walkability a priority, and of the city investing more resources in sidewalk snowclearing.

To that end, 67 per cent of citizens surveyed said they’d “definitely support” a tax increase of $25 or less.

On Wednesday, city council will provide staff with direction on whether or not to increase the level of service this winter.

A decision note prepared by staff for council says staff recommend council maintain the status quo.

“Given future anticipated budget challenges, enhancing the level of service for sidewalks is not recommended. The minimal cost option to produce a noticeable difference to residents is $700k per year which is not budgeted,” read’s staff’s recommendation.

With the January snowstorm and COVID-19, 2020 is a challenging year for the city fiscally.

In July, Mayor Danny Breen said it looked like there’d be an $18-million deficit by year’s end. A rainy-day surplus the city’s been saving over the past few years totals $22-million, but council hasn’t yet decided how much of that will be needed to balance the books by year’s end.

Coun. Ian Froude is St. John’s city council lead for public works. He said he will “continue to advocate for improved sidewalk snow clearing.” However, city staff are recommending that council maintain status quo this winter. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO - File Photo
Coun. Ian Froude is St. John’s city council lead for public works. He said he will “continue to advocate for improved sidewalk snowclearing.” However, city staff are recommending that council maintain status quo this winter. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO - File Photo

However, Coun. Ian Froude, council lead for public works — the department responsible for sidewalk snowclearing — took to Twitter on Friday to tell residents he “will continue to advocate for improved sidewalk snowclearing.”

The sidewalk snowclearing engagement, which was conducted earlier this summer, did not guarantee any changes would be made this winter.

“While we will collect feedback, and staff will review and make recommendations, changes may need to be phased in,” reads a section of the Engage St. John’s sidewalk snowclearing web page.

“We will have to consider each potential improvement/change individually to ensure we have the budget to make the change effectively. There may be changes possible for 2020-21 but it’s possible we will have to put in place a plan that is longer term with a series of changes that take place over time.”

And while staff are recommending status quo, their decision note to council highlights six other options. These include a range of changes, beginning with increasing attention to higher-priority sidewalks at a cost of $50,000, all the way up to creating nine new sidewalk snowclearing routes with additional equipment and staff at a cost of $4.5-million.

Council will consider the options on Wednesday and make a preliminary decision. The issue will then come before a regular meeting of council (usually within two weeks) for a final decision.

Currently, 161 kilometres of sidewalk are a part of the city’s snowclearing program. This includes sidewalks near 36 schools in the city. The current program requires 18 operators and two supervisors dedicated to sidewalk snowclearing from Dec. 1 to March 21.

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@juanitamercer_

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