Let's put aside the glorious fall Prince George has enjoyed and talk about the inevitable cold and white stuff coming our way.
Winter is on its way and in the interest of saving some cold hard cash, city council approved a new snow and ice control policy Monday night that will allow two more centimetres to fall on local residential streets before sending out the plows.
Now instead of 10 centimetres, it will take 12 centimetres of snow to bring out the equipment. The change was a result of the core services review and is expected to save $180,000 per year for other snow-clearing work.
The new policy doesn't apply to sidewalk clearing, which will remain the same.
Based on letters to the editor, residents complain about two things when it comes to snow clearing. First, there is steady correspondence from Hart residents each winter about the lack of timely snow removal from area roads.
Turns out those residents could be on to something. As operations superintendent Bill Gall explained, city staff don't actually measure the snowfall, they use Environment Canada data. As Hart residents know all too well, the amount of snow that falls on North Kelly Road can be substantially more than what falls downtown or at the airport. Six centimetres of snow at Pine Centre can be sixteen centimetres at the Hart Mall on the same night.
The second snow clearing complaint sent to The Citizen each winter is about too much snow clearing. Angry residents wrote in throughout last winter, demanding to know why graders were out dropping the blade on bare streets and/or after the tiniest of snow accumulation. Again, the Environment Canada snowfall numbers might not match what's actually on the ground in several neighbourhoods.
Perhaps the Environment Canada data should be used with some more on-the-ground analysis, like what homeowners use - looking out of the window and/or stepping outside.
Speaking of stepping outside, Coun. Brian Skakun was the sole vote in opposition to the change, saying he's been told "loud and clear" that residents want their streets plowed more frequently. No doubt they have also told the good councillor that they want to pay less for taxes and utilities, want every pothole filled the instant they appear and want all city parks to look immaculate throughout the summer. In other words, taxpayers desire more services but want to pay less for it. It's the equivalent of wanting to eat chocolate cake and lose weight. Just because we want it doesn't make it right or even possible.
While it's admirable for Skakun and for all of mayor and council to take into account the feedback they receive from the community, they should also actively defend city policy whenever possible. Anyone who demands more snow removal or any other city service should be asked if they're willing to either pay more taxes or have another city service (like the filling of potholes) reduced in exchange.
Both snow removal and potholes point to a larger issue. If money was no object, every street in the community would be always perfect. There would be no bumps or holes and every snowflake that hit the ground would be pushed to the side. Since money is definitely an object and there's no such thing as perfect road maintenance, how much should be spent and how good is good enough when it comes to the condition of city streets, winter or summer? Are bumpy streets with some snow on them, but not to the point that they are unbearable or dangerous, worth tolerating in exchange for busy and well-used libraries, swimming pools, arenas and parks? Isn't complaining about the amount of snow on the street two or three times a year and having timely and adequate removal the rest of winter good enough?
No question that you're never going to always satisfy everyone.
The goal of the city, therefore, should be to please most residents most of the time when it comes to snow removal in particular and street care in general.