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Cities running out of cash for snow removal as icy Canadian winter hits hard

With his home on a corner lot, Gordon Isbister had to shovel close to 200 feet of sidewalk on Nov. 27, 2013.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Toronto depleted its entire winter maintenance reserve fund dealing with the massive ice storm that plunged large parts of the city into darkness just days before Christmas.

And as much of Southern Ontario deals with a fresh wallop of snow – Environment Canada is calling for up to 10 centimetres to fall by Tuesday morning – the weather is continuing to wreak havoc on the City of Toronto's budget.

The city budgets just over $80-million for snow removal. But just seven weeks into the latest budget year, snow-removal costs already might be running over budget, said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. However, he said, exceeding the budget can't be helped when Toronto is grappling with one of the snowiest winters in recent memory.

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"We really have no choice," he said. "The snow has to be cleared."

Toronto is far from alone. Dozens of other municipalities across Canada have also blown through their budgets for snow removal. Ottawa, for instance, emerged from 2013 with a deficit of $21.5-million in its winter maintenance budget. Dealing with the ice storm alone, including snow removal, cost Ottawa $11.7-million, the city's transportation committee was told earlier this month.

Over three days last December, 41 centimetres of snow fell on Ottawa, Kevin Wylie, manager of the city's roads, traffic operations and maintenance department, told the committee. "We don't have control over the weather, obviously," he said.

Many municipalities built up reserve funds when warmer-than-usual winters were a boon for city coffers.

But many cities in Ontario and in Western Canada dipped into their reserve funds last year. One of the exceptions was Vancouver, where the weather in the Lower Mainland was balmy compared with much of the rest of the country. Vancouver spent just $1.7-million on snow removal in 2013, said Councillor Raymond Louie. The city also has $4-million in its reserve fund, he said.

Road salt has also become a hot commodity this winter. Niagara Falls has a good stock of salt, and has kept its snow-removal costs on budget, said Jim Diodati, the city's mayor.

"Being in a snow belt," he said, "you just never know when lake-effect snow squalls are going to take place."

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Other municipalities, including many in the United States, that did not take similar precautions have offered Niagara Falls a huge premium for its salt. But Mr. Diodati said he isn't interested in parting with his stockpile.

"We have received a number of requests to sell," he said, "but we're not going to do that because we will run out."

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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