The winter of 2013-14 was rough on the City of St. John’s — and its budget, so far — but the city is not sitting on a surplus for snowclearing operations.
Coun. Danny Breen, chairman of the city’s finance committee, raised the issue at Tuesday’s regular council meeting after a caller to a VOCM call-in show suggested the city left $10 million unspent. As Breen noted, the city’s $16-million budget — and a $2-million reserve budget to cover unanticipated costs — for snowclearing is for the 2014 calendar year, and the budget is for any snowclearing that needs to be done at the end of this year as well.
Coun. Danny Breen at St. John’s city council meeting Tuesday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
“To point it out as a surplus is not correct,” said Breen. “It’s the amount remaining in our budget as we move forward. … To say that there was money not spent from the budget is just not correct and misleading. The budget is for the full year. We have to get through on that budget to next December, the end of December 2014.”
Last year’s early start to winter meant snowclearing expenses exceeded the 2013 budget by about half a million dollars, which came out of the year. The reserve is there because the city can’t stop clearing snow once the budget has been spent, said Breen.
“We have to clear the snow. We’ll spend whatever it takes to clear the snow. That’s why we have the reserves built up to get us through those times,” he said.
As of April 4, the city had spent $6.6 million on snowclearing, about $760,000 more than anticipated for the year to date. The largest line item in the budget: salt. So far, one-third of the city’s 2014 snow-clearing expenses — $2.2 million — has been on salt. The city has also spent about $505,000 on labour overtime, more than three times the year-to-date allotment of $150,000 and outstripping the $300,000 budgeted for the entire year.
After the meeting, Breen said it’s too soon to know whether the city will finish the year with its snowclearing operations in the red or the black.
“It’s not really the first part of the year that’s a big issue. It’s what happens at the end of the year that determines where you are,” said Breen. “If you get an early start to winter — this year we had an early start — and we had several weather events on the way to the end of the year, so the costs were driven up. It’s weather-reliant, so if the snow’s there, it’s gotta be moved.”