Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2016 (1086 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Homeowners are packing brooms, shovels and rakes to clean their own streets in Winnipeg this fall now that the city's cash crunch has grounded street cleaning.
The new normal is supposed to be temporary as city council wrestles down Winnipeg's deficit.
Last month, city planners approved some $2.8 million to improve the mowing schedule on parks and boulevards in the middle of streets – homeowners still have to look after boulevards adjacent to their property.
This month, city council's infrastructure renewal and public works committee set aside $60,000 to clean up major residential thoroughfares, where leaf litter has been pounded into muddy red sludge and is now a slippery road hazard for cyclists.
Meanwhile, leaf litter sludge oozes along the edges of city streets just about everywhere, clogging the city's overtaxed storm and sewer drains.
The problem is worse in older areas where the city's celebrated urban forest, with its broad elm canopy, is now dropping the last of its leaves.
So far, no one's admitted to prying open the sewers in sheer frustration to scoop out the gunk, although Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) admitted in years past, he used to take his sons out to de-ice sewer grates in their back lane, "for fun." It sped up the spring melt, he said.
"It's all been very friendly," Crescentwood resident Robert Young assured the Free Press Friday, as he recounted persistent calls to his local city councillor's office this fall.
Banter aside, it's clear the new normal isn't going down all that well.
"My point is in these heavily treed areas where we live, that's where the most acute problem is, in terms of trying to keep the streets clean," said Young.
Young is a retired history professor and author and he's adapted to his new street cleaning chores.
He's cleared the leaf litter on Yale Avenue fronting his property. He's resigned to maintaining the city boulevard, too, with the emphasis it really isn't his property.
Eadie is no fan of the new normal, which he bluntly described as one of Mayor Brian Bowman's "cuts in service."
"We get a lot of complaints," Eadie said Friday. "They did get rid of (fall street cleaning) . . . but they will come out and look at it, if it's really bad. They set up extra money for it in the last infrastructural renewal and public works meeting," Eadie said.
Meanwhile, city officials have said if politicians want the boulevards and parks to look nicer, they’ll have to pony up millions of dollars.
An administrative report dealing with the shabby look of parks and boulevards admits that parks staff can’t keep up with the mowing requirements and the only solution is money — $2.8 million and possibly more.
That's just to improve mowing for the city’s older neighbourhoods – not for any of the new suburbs developed in the last six years.
"Within the last few years, existing resources for park grass maintenance have been stretched even further than normal due to the addition of new developments and reductions in parks maintenance staff," states Dave Domke, the city’s manager of parks.
The sludge now plugging up street drains is rooted in an issue that's been clogging up the budget process for years now.
In 2003, council approved a policy to boost infrastructure and maintenance budgets by the rate of inflation, only to limit the extra cash to cover fuel cost increases.
The situation was compounded when the city department cut the equivalent of 10 full-time positions to meet budget targets from 2010-2015.
Now, suburban growth has added 102 hectares of new park space between 2010 and 2015 but the city doesn’t have the budget or the resources to touch a blade of grass in those areas. City planners say doing that would cost another $1.2 million.
Councillors on the parks committee Monday endorsed the department request for an additional $2.8 million and forwarded the request to the 2017 budget process but that's no guarantee it will make it into the final document.
As part of the process, Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) has previously cautioned the committee and the parks department to consider alternative methods to maintain park space.
— with files by Aldo Santin
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.