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Heavy snowfalls this season have put pressure on Woolwich’s budget

Heavier snowfalls over the course of 2018 have put some strain on the township’s snow clearing budget as it heads into the final month of the year. The Woolwich winter control budget – the funds set aside for road plowing for the calendar year – dipped to $113,000 this December – significantly less than the amount typically needed to cover the month.

With December snow clearing costing an average of $214,000, the township might find itself going into the red as it braces for the coming month.

“I would say that we’ve got to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. If we have an average winter based on these figures, we’re probably going to go over budget,” said Dan Kennaley, director of engineering and planning services with the township.

Woolwich uses a five-year rolling average to set an annual snow-removal budget, setting aside any surplus money in good years and drawing on the reserve funds in busier years.

In the past five years, the cost of snow removal in December alone has dropped as low as $70,000 in 2015 (when the region experienced the lowest snowfalls for the month since 1945), to as high as $341,000 in 2013. Last year, winter control for the month of December came in at $239,000, double the $113,000 available this year.

An average snowfall this December would likely push the costs over budget before the new year, forcing the township to search for alternatives to make up the difference. Fortunately, notes Kennaley, there are usually a few ways for the township to find excess funds to balance the budget, including a reserve fund set up for just such a purpose.

“A few years ago, we decided that we should create a winter control reserve. And basically what that acknowledged was that some years we don’t spend our entire budget: so why not put that in a reserve, to counter those years when we end up overspending our winter control budget?” said Kennaley.

“So the absolute first place that we would look is to that winter reserve. And only if we didn’t have enough.”

Beyond that, the township would look for additional funds within the engineering department itself if needed, adds Kennaley.

“What we would try to do is make it up within our budget area. So there’s always accounts where we’re overspent, and there’s always other accounts where we’re underspent. And hopefully we will be able to make up [the shortfall] – if in fact something like the average comes to pass,” he said.

“So only if we couldn’t take that money out of that winter reserve, if we didn’t have enough money in the winter reserve, that’s when we would look elsewhere in the engineering and planning services budget,” says Kennaley. “And I’m sure that that’s as far as we’d have to go – we wouldn’t have to look outside engineering and planning services to make up the difference.

“Unless we get snow-ageddon in December,” he added, humorously. “But I doubt that that’s going to happen, simply based on what I’ve seen in these other five years.”

Separately, the township maintains two other budgets for snow removal, one for sidewalk clearing in the town of Elmira, and another for sidewalks outside municipally maintained properties, including locations such as parks and township buildings. However, in both cases the amount is significantly smaller than the main winter control budget, and typically far easier to cover in the case of budget overruns. Moreover, snow clearing in Elmira is covered through a special levy to properties in town benefiting from the service.

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