Let It Snow
Last Thursday, the City Auditor presented a new report to Council, this time about snow removal.
The media barely mentioned this report but, at Common Sense Edmonton we think you deserve better.
So, like the policy wonks that we are, we spent a good chunk of our long-weekend reading and analyzing a 70+ page report on the recent performance of the City's snow removal program.
You can read the full report for yourself here on the City's website, but the main highlights are:
1) The City doesn't bother to compare its program to any other cities.
Yep, Edmonton doesn't bother making any comparisons to see if we are doing good, bad or mediocre.
In fact, the City hasn't even bothered to figure out what the proper metrics to do so would be.
As the auditor said, "We were unable to obtain comparable data for our benchmarking analysis. Therefore, we could not conclude on how Edmonton’s SNIC (Snow and Ice Control) program performs compared to other cities."
2) The City doesn't bother to compare its program year-over-year
Yep, that's right the City doesn't keep or track annual statistics, meaning they don't even know how well they're doing compared to how well they used to do.
"There are no comparators such as historical data or targets in place to assess whether program performance is improving, deteriorating, or meeting the target," says the report.
3) Complaints are skyrocketing
Thankfully, one of the few statistics that the City does track is complaints, and after seeing these numbers, they probably wish they didn't.
Over the last 5 years, complaints have absolutely skyrocketed:
Requests to have residential roads plowed have jumped 2,185%.
Complaints about massive snow windrows have jumped 2,211%.
10 other categories of snow-related calls increased by more than 300%.
Things are so bad, that Snow and Ice Control Management have indicated that they can barely deal with just 10% of the complaints they receive.
"PARS (Parks and Roads Services) can get 100 to 300 notifications a day during a snow event. According to SNIC Management, supervisors can barely address 20 to 30 in a day if each results in an inspection and then documenting a decision on the appropriate outcome and a response to the citizen or Councillor."
4) Maintenance is disorganized
Even things that you might normally consider the 'small stuff' appear to present problems for Edmonton's snow and ice control.
Unbelievably, the City appears to schedule regular, annual, maintenance on snow removal equipment during the winter period!
Obviously, emergency repairs from use and abuse will sometimes be required during the winter period, we understand that.
But who schedules annual maintenance during the one season when the equipment is actually needed?
Surely all scheduled and preventative maintenance could be done from say April to October, or, just, whenever it's not snowing?
5) Snow dumps aren't tracked
The City operates several snow dumps, which are open to the public, for free, but the City has no idea who is using the dumps and how much.
There is no tracking of how much snow the City brings, how much the public brings, how much private contractors who clear parking lots for businesses like Walmart brings, or even how much other municipalities bring.
You'd think this would be a good thing to know, because no matter who brings the snow, the City - and therefore you, the taxpayer, pay all the costs.
From the report, again: "As the sites are not staffed and open to public use, there is no tracking of who brings what and how much snow to the site. Currently, PARS has no indication of how much snow is brought by the City of Edmonton crews, private users, users from outside the City and other municipalities. We do know that the City has accepted snow from at least two municipalities without any compensation."
6) None of this is cheap
Due, in part, to a high reliance on overtime pay to those employees clearing snow, Edmonton's spending per capita on snow clearing was the highest of 26 large Canadian cities.
To be fair, when measured on a per-lane-kilometre basis, Edmonton is in the middle of the pack.
But, we shouldn't forget that that pack includes many cities that receive far more snow than Edmonton!
When compared to Calgary, an arguably much fairer comparison, Edmonton's spending per-lane-kilometre is 72% higher.
In summary, it seems like there's a lot of room for improvement by the City.
The Auditor certainly seems to agree, issuing 12 recommendations.
Some of you might still be asking why we're making such a big deal about a snow report.
Well, we happen to think that all the services that Edmontonians fund through their hard-earned taxpayer dollars should be top-notch.
But also, we think this is an excellent example of a growing trend at City Hall.
It has become painfully clear that Council no longer has any idea what the actual job of a municipal government is anymore.
The City spends far too much time and far too much money on things that are not the proper responsibility of a municipal government, preferring to focus on shiny objects or pet projects that only appeal to a very narrow interest group.
Worse, all that time and money spent on these distractions has also jeopardized the quality and effectiveness of the services the City is actually supposed to be delivering.
Common Sense Edmonton thinks that it's time to focus City spending on the core role of our municipal government, stop with the wasteful spending on distractions, and cut taxes for all Edmonton residents and businesses.
If you agree, and you're in a position to be able to help fund more work like this, would you also please consider chipping in $5, $10, or even $50 to help fund more research, analysis, and outreach like this?
Common Sense Edmonton doesn't accept any government funding, and never will.
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