Snow-removal budget needs a permanent upgrade, says Knack

· The Pulse
By Karen Unland

It's time for Edmonton to invest in the equipment and staff needed to clear snow more quickly, says Coun. Andrew Knack.

The $58.5-million budget for snow and ice removal has not kept up with the growing inventory of roads, sidewalks, and active pathways in the city, nor does it allow for timely clearing, the councillor for Ward Nakota Isga said on Episode 162 of Speaking Municipally.

"I think the standard to which we hold ourselves to clearing within 48 hours isn't high enough," Knack said, calling instead for a 12-hour window for some areas. "But I think we need more equipment. We sold off a ton in the '90s. And we've never really replenished it in a way that I think justifies the service that people expect."

Knack has requested a report on service standards and the possibility of expanding the city's snow-removal fleet. The report is expected to come back to city council in April. He has also been blogging about snow removal.

Knack served as guest co-host on Taproot's civic affairs podcast. He brought along Coun. Keren Tang, who noted that in the avalanche of information she's had to take in as a new councillor, the data on snow removal was "the most riveting info we had," as it is a huge accessibility issue.

The snow-removal budget is also an opportunity to apply GBA+ (gender-based analysis plus) thinking, chimed in regular co-host Troy Pavlek. As Caroline Criado Perez pointed out in her book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a study in Sweden showed that clearing main roads first benefits commuters, who are mostly men, while clearing sidewalks and cycle paths last disproportionately affects women. Is it time to make clearing sidewalks the first priority instead of the Whitemud?

"Are we ready? I'm not sure," said Tang, the councillor for Ward Karhiio. "But I think something needs to change. And so I am looking for when this report comes back, when we actually talk about this in terms of that budget implication, and put money where our mouth is."

Knack agreed. "I think we're ready for it. The question is, are we ready to pay for it?"

Snow-clearing equipment on an Edmonton street

As Edmonton anticipates another big dump of snow, the way we clear our roads and sidewalks is on councillors' minds. (Mack Male/Flickr)

That will be a key question for many council discussions to come, as this is the year the new council will set the city's budget for the next four years.

"This is truly where we can put into action the things that we campaigned on, where we can show Edmontonians what we think is actually important," said Knack, "because if you don't fund it, then it's clearly not important."

He acknowledged the decisions made in the 2021 budget adjustment will eat into the available money. But he said Edmonton is still well within its debt limit, and there's room to borrow for the things that matter.

"We're going to see a lot of smaller priorities that help improve the quality of life across the city that helped us really lean into that idea of the '15-minute city' as identified in the City Plan so that people can live more locally," he said.

Also key to the upcoming budget discussions is what to do about the Edmonton Police Service budget and the $10.9 million that was diverted to community safety and well-being.

There hasn't been a good framework for decision-making on what to do with those funds, but it's coming this quarter, Tang said. "That's actually been a missing piece."

The opacity of the police budget itself is also an issue, she said.

"Council wants to see the value for the funds that (police) are getting right now. We don't actually have a way to know — are we really getting the value for the dollar?"

Knack acknowledged that a lot of constituents he hears from want more funding for police. "So I've tried to engage those folks and talk about why we need to start shifting. Continuing doing the same-old, same-old of just increasing that budget year after year after year hasn't produced the results that we want."

Hear more on these issues, as well as the imminent disappearance of photo-radar revenue, the challenges of understanding carbon budgeting, and co-host Mack Male's desperate longing for an Arc card on the Jan. 14 episode of Speaking Municipally, co-hosted by Knack after he won a bet against Pavlek.