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Green Christmas a gift for townships’ road-clearing budgets

You can forgive staff in Woolwich and Wellesley townships for dreaming of a green Christmas this year. They weren’t conjuring their inner Grinch to finish off 2011 – snow simply wasn’t in the budget. Wellesley spent about two-thirds of its $100,000 snow maintenance budget keeping the roads clear between January and April of last year, while Woolwich burned through almost 85 per cent of its $580,000 budget over that same period, leaving very little left for the months of November and December.

“If we didn’t have the green Christmas we probably wouldn’t have been on budget,” said Richard Sigurdson, Woolwich’s manager of engineering.

“It was looking quite challenging earlier in the year because we had a harder winter in January, February and March, but this winter season November and December [was] quite light.”

Roads: Thankful that a mild end to 2011 balanced off a busy spring

The reprieve offered by a warmer-than-usual winter these past few months will now likely put both townships back on budget after the worrisome start to 2011.

“We do not have all of the invoices in, but generally speaking we’re on track to be on budget,” said Sigurdson, an opinion shared by his counterpart in Wellesley.

December actually saw higher-than-average precipitation this year, and a total of 94 mm fell, compared to the average of 71.1 mm. Most of it was rain, however:  the region only saw about 17.5 cm of snow all month, less than half of the average of 38.5 cm. (1 cm of snow is equivalent of 1 mm of rain.)

December was also marked by a lack of cold temperatures, with the average daily high sitting at 2.7 degrees Celsius and the average low -3.4 degrees. The long-term average in the region is -0.4 and -7.5 respectively.
Compare that to last March when Waterloo experienced more than twice its normal snowfall, with the bulk of that falling on Mar. 23 alone when 26 cm of snow hit the region.

“We had a pretty bad spring, if you’ll remember. We plowed a month extra, right until Apr. 22,” said Will McLaughlin, executive director of operations in Wellesley.

Both townships use rolling averages to calculate their annual snow removal budgets, with Wellesley using a 10-year window and Woolwich a five-year average.

In Woolwich, the breakdown is approximately $175,000 for staff; $250,000 for equipment; $130,000 for materials such as sand and salt, and the rest is for miscellaneous costs or other smaller accounts.
In Wellesley, the snow removal budget of $100,000 is for materials only; other costs such as equipment and salaries are tied into other departments.

Both men were also quick to add that in this day and age of budget slashing,  winter road clearing was one item that would not likely be on the chopping block given safety concerns.

Each township also has a contingency account which they can draw upon should they have to go over budget, or contribute to if they come in under budget.

Mclaughlin anticipates his budget to remain the same in 2012, and Sigurdson said that his would likely increase a little bit, though that has yet to be finalized through the budget process.

“Winter is very unpredictable, and we just sort of have to deal with it as we can,” Sigurdson said.

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