Cry me a snowbank

Coun. Ken Perry

Dear editor:
I must agree with Christine Hampton. The streets and sidewalks in the downtown area need some attention.
So does the 50 or so other kilometres of roadway in town and the more than 40 km of associated sidewalks that are not in the downtown core.
There are many businesses in other areas of Fort Frances, not just downtown. From the overpass and Williams Avenue in the east end of town to Webster Avenue and all the way to the west edge of town, all businesses have a snow problem in the winter. The difference is that the businesses not in the downtown core have to remove their own snow from their sidewalks, parking lots, and driveways.
The similarities are that all commercial businesses pay for the same tax ratios.
Why, then, do people and some downtown business persons expect special treatment from the town? Not only do they expect this bonus, they usually get it. But could it be more timely? And at what cost?
The town has four machine operators and two truck drivers. Public Works has a priority sequence for snow removal from the streets and sidewalks throughout the entire town.
The downtown business area does not rank No. 1. Snow routes in front of the hospital, the ambulance garage, the fire hall, the police station, and other strategic sites, you must admit, have to be of foremost importance.
Rainycrest would be one of these. Plowing around schools, the town hall, the sportsplex, the library, etc., also are priorized.
Being that Scott Street is the main highway and designated “connecting link,” it is right up there in importance and priority. For that reason, it is not allowed to be piled high with snow in the middle of a provincial highway on the travelled portion of the road.
There are four designated areas and four machine operators, and more than one section of town receives attention at the same time. The commercial, industrial, and residential areas receive equal service.
The same is true for sidewalk clearing.
There are routes that are followed and the job gets done. The town crew tries diligently to cover the entire areas in a timely manner. In the winter months, the crew is split to supply a night crew, saving a bundle in overtime. Better use is made of equipment with the second shift.
Maybe the occasional “thank you” should be extended to the workers of the town instead of berating them for what they do because it doesn’t appeal to every member of the public. The coldest part of our winters occur in the overnight hours, and some people cannot sleep during the day.
Occasionally, equipment breaks down, staff get sick, or the next snow event hits in the midst of the ongoing clean-up and the sequence gets disrupted—but the streets somehow remain passable.
When the crew gets done with the streets and sidewalks, they proceed to the back lanes with front-end loaders. The downtown laneways are of utmost concern. So instead of the time being taken to further clean the streets in front of the businesses on Scott Street, they plow the back lane of those same businesses to enable parking at the rear and access for deliveries to the back door.
Meanwhile, businesses in other areas of town pay contractors to clean the access to their delivery doors.
The businesses along Scott Street (three blocks) are within the Business Improvement Area (BIA). They have special taxing abilities among their members. The BIA submits a budget to the town each year, and the town assesses the included area and allocates those funds to the BIA to spend as they have indicated in their budget.
They are not told what to request and they are not dissuaded from spending money on snow removal. They simply choose to direct their funds to other worthwhile necessities. As I have stated, other businesses in our town shoulder their own snow removal expenses.
When I resided in Thunder Bay, my last life it seems, no laneway was cleared of snow by city crews. Also, in many Canadian towns and cities, residences and businesses have a time limit after a snowfall to clean the sidewalks in front of their property. If the snow is not removed within the time allowed, bylaw issues a ticket, the city removes the snow, and the property owner receives the bill for the clean-up.
We, in our town, could do a more timely job by not cleaning sidewalks and by not clearing back lanes. Or we simply could hire more operators and truck drivers, and purchase or lease more equipment.
Each operator or driver hired will be an additional one percent increase in taxes, and each piece of equipment would amount to an extra three-five percent in tax revenue.
Another means of accomplishing the same result would be to increase the budget for contracted services. If we could afford to construct a salt shed to store a winter allotment of salt, and then also afford salt on an ongoing basis, we could better control ice build-up on our town streets.
We have yet to realize the funds needed in these two areas. A salt shed would be in excess of $450,000 and salt would be on an as-needed basis. The MoE will not allow us to purchase large amounts of salt in advance of cold weather as the salt rainwater run-off will get into the environment in an uncontrolled manner.
When funding was available last, we chose to apply for the new library. Dryden received funding for water meters.
We here in Fort Frances can create all types of better ways to accomplish tasks. All it will take is dollars. The snow banks are but one problem that sooner or later gets removed when they get too high. If not, what the heck. They will all melt in the spring.
Next time you get an urge to crab about the snow on Scott Street, go look at the snow banks at some of the businesses on the fringes of town, and realize they cleaned up their own mess at their own expense. And if they removed the snow banks, those same businesses also paid to do that.
Coun. Ken Perry
Fort Frances, Ont.