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Snow emergency: Coun. Davison plows ahead with a plan to provide quick storm action

Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison said his office has received hundreds of complaints over city snow removal following the Dec. 22 snowstorm that dumped 40 centimeters on parts of Calgary.

That’s prompted he and fellow councillor Ward Sutherland to pen a notice of motion giving city administration the power to declare a snow emergency. The motion will come to the Jan. 12 Priorities and Finance committee meeting.

“What we had here in December was a situation where we could have likely called a snow emergency –or close to, however council wasn’t in session,” Coun. Davison told LiveWire Calgary Tuesday morning.

“Administration didn’t have the authority to go out and deal with matters.”

A snow emergency is defined by the city as “a winter storm that overwhelms the base compliment of snow fighting equipment and personnel.”

Declaring a snow emergency allows the city to ban traffic in certain areas (except emergency personnel) on street parking bans and closure of public buildings.

Currently, under the city’s Snow and Ice Control bylaw, city council must declare the snow emergency.

If a snow emergency is declared, the city manager is also allowed to authorize additional funding.

Coun. Davison said they’d like administration to come back with criteria around the declaration of a snow emergency – including potential funding parameters.

“In a situation where council isn’t in session, the could have just gone out and dealt with the things they needed to deal with, within the necessary budget,” he said.

Calgary’s Snow and Ice budget

The city blew its 2019/2020 snow and ice budget by 11 million. There was a snowstorm that began Sept. 27 that dumped 34 centimetres on the city over three days. They’d budgeted $38.9 million and spent $49.8 million.

The unit’s snow and ice control reserve was also depleted in 2019/2020. Over the prior two years, $13.5 million was drawn from the reserve.

Davison said this notice of motion would allow the city roads department to dip into other transportation reserves to fund snow clearing should there not be any room in the operating budget.

Calgary already has one of the lowest snow removal budgets per kilometre, Davison said.

Baking in the roughly $13 million it would cost for full residential snow removal would increase the property tax rate by roughly one per cent.

“We do this a lot. We cut funding to things and we take away these small budgets and we get into a situation like there where we say, ‘oh, we need that,’” Coun. Davison said.

“And then we fund them again.”

He said they need to be more flexible in responding to these sporadic snow events. They don’t want to increase taxes to do it.

But, he said it does require city council and citizens to think about their priorities.

“That’s going to require us to think next term about what those priorities are and how we’re going to address them,” he said.