© HEATHER TAWEEL/THE GUARDIAN
This past winter has been much easier on snow-clearing equipment in Charlottetown and also employees like Scott MacDonald, superintendent of Charlottetown's public works department. Last year's relentless winter pushed equipment to its breaking point and employees to exhaustion.
By Dave Stewart
The provincial government and Island municipalities expect to stay on budget with snow clearing operations this winter.
Obviously, no one can say that it's safe to put the snowplows away for the season just yet, but everyone seems confident that snow budgets won't get blown to smithereens this time.
Last year, the province went $6 million past its $15 million snow-clearing budget while the City of Charlottetown spent about double the $2.5 million it had set aside in the 2015 budget.
The City of Summerside said it has spent $180,000 less than last year so far this winter.
The past two winters have been a lot snowier than normal for P.E.I. Last year, the Charlottetown area set an all-time record for snowfall of about 18 feet. What made last year so bad is that so much fell in such a short time - February and March - making it feel even worse.
Based on snowfall totals, this winter has been average for the Island.
Darren Chaisson, director of highway maintenance for the province, said 262 centimetres has fallen in Charlottetown so far this winter. An average winter will see about 285 centimetres.
Chaisson said the province won't save money, but it won't be going over budget either - if there isn't a dramatic swing over to constant snowfalls, that is.
"We still have a month to go,'' Chaisson said. "The reality is most of our costs are fixed. We still have salaries and contracts that we still have to pay.''
Chaisson said costs are down in fuel because vehicles haven't been out as often. There should also be savings in terms of sand and salt.
"I just view this as a normal winter with a lot of temperature fluctuations. I think that kind of made things more manageable.''
Paul Johnston, manager of Charlottetown's public works department, says snow budgets are no different than any type of insurance.
"Good winters are not a fact of saving money. It's just not spending extra money,'' Johnston said. "We've got contracts there that need to be paid . . . whether they go out or not.''
In an email to The Guardian, the City of Summerside said it will reduce overtime by 2,391.5 hours, has had five fewer plowing events, 12 fewer salting events, one additional sidewalk plowing event, six fewer sidewalk salting events and five fewer trucking snow away events.
A spokeswoman with the city said that means $60,000 less in labour, $30,000 in fuel, 700 tonnes of less salt, which is worth around $60,000, while outside trucking expenses have been slashed by about $35,000.
Paul Warren, who operates the private company Warren's Snow Removal in Cornwall, said the savings come in the form of fuel and parts that aren't breaking as often.
"You still have to pay staff, but employees do get a welcome break compared to the last two winters,'' Warren said. "There's always money going out ,but it does make a difference.''
Chaisson said the biggest difference has been the mood of staff.
"The morale is certainly a lot better. Staff were pretty exhausted (last winter) just with the relentlessness of Mother Nature,'' he said.