After a winter where higher-than-average snowfall resulted in the use of more than double the normal amount of sand and salt on city streets, the City of Calgary has reduced its spring street sweeping budget by 10 per cent. Not only will spring cleanup take longer than usual, stretching well into summer, city crews will only sweep roads once and will no longer tow parked cars that obstruct scheduled street cleaning.
To keep the 2014 tax increase down, council had asked administrators last fall to find savings in all departments except Calgary police. The finance department reported those impacts last week, including the $700,000 clawback for spring roads maintenance.
But Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot — a fiscal hawk who pushed hard to trim the budget — said he never intended for city staff to take the scissors to the street-cleaning program.
“I guess it’s watch what you wish for, because there’s always a way on the part of administration to push back on some of the cuts,” Chabot said Sunday. “Of course they’re going to put the motherhood and apple pie stuff into the cuts, to try to convince you not to make those cuts.”
Chabot said “no councillor in their right mind” would cut the spring cleanup program, especially not after the kind of winter Calgary has had. He said he will be asking council to dip into the city’s rainy day fund, the Fiscal Stability Reserve, to cover the shortfall in the program’s funding.
Street sweeping is a hot-button issue for Calgarians, said Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans, adding in a typical spring he fields “daily” calls from residents wanting to know when their street will be cleaned.
But Pootmans said reducing the service this year may be a good way of gauging how much Calgarians are willing to give up to avoid tax increases.
“Frankly, I would prefer if we did do the job as well as we have in the past,” Pootmans said. “But maybe this is an example of economy and sensitivity to taxpayers’ dollars — and we’ll see what their limits are.”
Transportation department spokesman Sean Somers said when administration is asked to take the scissors to the transportation budget, the choices are difficult. Somers said the street sweeping decision had nothing to do with pushing back against council and everything to do with reducing the impact on Calgarians.
“This decision was made primarily because spring cleanup is the one single thing that has the least impact on safety. If we chose not to do pothole repairs, for example, that would be a huge hazard for everybody …. If we said we’re not going to paint lines on the street this year, that wouldn’t fly,” Somers said. “The bottom line is, spring cleanup is a very nice luxury to have.”
Not everyone agrees, however, that street sweeping is a luxury. Already, word has spread through Calgary’s cycling community that there may be more gravel and grit on the roadways this summer.
“Certain cyclists have even been asking if it’s a liability, if the city leaves the roads in poor condition,” said Sean Carter, cyclist and owner of Calgary store BikeBike. “From all my experience riding, gravel is actually more dangerous than ice or snow. Sometimes you can’t see it, sometimes you can’t see how loose it is … it can be pretty deadly stuff to encounter if you’re not ready for it.”
Since each street will only get one pass of a sweeper this year, the city says it is even more important for residents to move their parked cars when sweeping is scheduled. Spring Clean-up will begin on April 22, 2014. The cleaning schedule will be coming soon.
The Tuscany Community Association is planning to do what it can to get the word out.
“We’re trying to encourage residents to pay attention to signage and co-operate,” said president Kelli Taylor. “Safety is a factor, particularly for strollers, bicycles, and motorcycles.”
Still, Taylor said she understands the fine line the city must walk between maintaining services and holding the line on budget increases.
“The reality is it costs money to remove snow and to sweep gravel from our streets. So how much are people willing to pay for more frequent or more thorough service? We’ve heard mixed reviews from Tuscany residents,” she said.
By Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald