Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rut-scraping delay tied to budget? Nah...

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Winnipeggers navigate dangerously rutted icy streets at their own risk as they wait for the city to act.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeggers navigate dangerously rutted icy streets at their own risk as they wait for the city to act. Photo Store

ARE YOU READY FOR ANOTHER SNOW JOB?... Winnipeg is a place used to getting snow jobs from city hall. Lately, though, the issue is the snow-plowing jobs we haven't been getting.

On New Year's Eve, navigating the dangerously rutted and icy roads left some drivers feeling as if they were on luge runs, not regional or even major streets. That was supposed to start changing as of 7 p.m. Wednesday with city crews scheduled to scrape the main arteries.

For the time being, that leaves us to manage rutted residential streets at our own risk.

Which brings us to those most impacted by the slippery conditions -- the busy folks at Manitoba Public Insurance who have to handle collision claims.

According to one report, MPI was expecting to deal with 17,000 claims from accidents last month. That, if you care to compare, is up 1,500 claims from December 2012 and way up by more than 5,000 claims from December 2011.

That's not counting the damaged suspensions on vehicles from lumpy and bumpy winter streets that even make spring pothole season preferable.

If you're looking for someone to blame for the road conditions -- other than the weatherman -- take your pick from the mayor to the public works director. Or you could even go after the attitude of Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, which some did last month when he questioned the need for what he called Winnipeg's "Cadillac" model of plowing and clearing the driveways of residential streets.

City officials may all tell you budget considerations had nothing to do with the roads being left unplowed long enough to create the unnervingly slippery-slidey conditions, but that sounds like one of those city hall snow jobs aimed at not denting the snow-clearing budget.

In early December, after Winnipeg's first significant snowfall, the city took five days to think about and finally undertake a $4-million residential street clearing. That followed a $2-million rollout of 300 pieces of equipment to clear main streets and collector routes.

The city blamed the delay on a forecast of more snow down the road, even as that road was becoming a driving problem.

Meanwhile, back on Dec. 10, Wyatt, who as finance chairman is supposed to mind the city's money, didn't see the hurry to plow residential streets.

"We must all slow down a bit when driving," Wyatt said. "We live in Winnipeg -- not Waco, Texas."

Wyatt had more to say back in that second week of December. He warned a residential plowing at that time would exhaust city's 2013 snow- clearing budget, and he was concerned another snowstorm in December would send Winnipeg's overall annual budget into the ditch and deficit.

"I think we should have waited," Wyatt said back then.

At the time, Winnipeg's chief financial officer Mike Ruta echoed Wyatt's concern, but put numbers to it. At the end of October, the city's budget was $3.7 million in the red, although Ruta expected department heads would find enough savings to balance the budget by the end of the year.

Ruta also said he believed the only factor that could undermine the budget is another snowstorm. And, of course, the cost of the snow clearing that came with it. Well, that snow arrived and here we are in the new year, finally getting plowed.

But, of course, balancing last year's budget had nothing to do with the four-day delay. Actually, it shouldn't have because all the city has to do to make the snow-clearing budget work is use the fiscal-stabilization reserve to cover the cost. I trust that clears everything up.

And hopefully all the rutted, icy streets.

Oh, one other thing. Here's a quote you might find refreshing. It's from a civic official who understands citizens are frustrated with snow- clearing efforts and who wants their feedback.

"We really want people to give us their thoughts and opinions on our current level of service," he said.

Trouble is the "he" quoted is Brian Anthony, director of public works for the Greater Toronto Area city of Vaughn, population nearly 300,000.

Not, alas, Winnipeg.

-- -- --

GOODBYE TO 2013, GOODBYE MORRIS. . . Thea Morris has left the building. She made the announcement on her Facebook page, as she originally predicted late last November after claiming she had been the target of racism: "Thea's Diner is now Officially Closed in Morris, MB.", her page read.

She thanked her supporters, including some in the town of 1,800. Who knows, maybe Thea will reopen in Winnipeg, where there are more people who appreciate different kinds of food.

And different kinds of people.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2014 B1

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