By: Stephen Chartrand- Specialty News Editor
Across southern Ontario, particularly for Toronto and the GTA, this year’s winter has been one of the coldest on record. It’s not just residents who’ve felt the brunt of cold snaps, freezing rain, and harsh snow storms, but municipal budgets as well. According to reports, Toronto, Markham, Mississauga and Vaughan have all overspent their budgets on snow removal and winter related damanges.
“We don’t have any money left for  fall storms,” said Gord Landon, a Markham regional councillor. “This has been the coldest winter in a long time,” Mr. Landon said. Markham’s winter expense budget was $6m for road maintenance and repairs but the city has already spent its entire budget in the first two months of this year.
Markahm councillors had no choice but to increase their winter expense budget by another $300,000 and raise taxes by 2.49 per cent to cover the unexpected costs. “We budgeted for four significant storms from January to April this year,” Mr. Landon said. “To date we’ve had six storm events since Jan. 1.”
Vaughan city has already spent $1.3m more than was in its $12.3m winter budget for 2013. According to Barbara Cribbett, Vaughan’s city manager, the expected costs of snow removal and other winter-related damages are estimated at $4.8m, or nearly half the city’s entire 2014 budget of $10.9m.
Like Markham and Vaughan, Mississauga and Toronto have also had to explain to taxpayers that their budgets were simply insufficient to cope with this years’ winter. According to Martin Powell, the commissioner of transportation and works for Mississauga, the city has already overspent its $13.2m winter expense budget by $1m.
For Toronto, the city has had to spend an extra $1.9m to cover its winter expenses, over and above an $82m reserved for road maintenace and repairs. According to Trevor Tenn, manager of road operations, Toronto spent half its winter expense budget in the first two months of this year. On average, the city would expect to spend a quarter of that budget in the same period of time, however, Mr. Tenn is not overly worried. With the winter season already half over, Mr. Tenn thinks the municipal budget has dealt with the brunt of the winter damage.
However, snow removal has not been the only headache municipal budgets have had to contend with. The cold snaps and freezing rains this winter have kept road crews extremely busy with breaking water mains and pothole repairs. Between January 1 and March 4, 2014, Toronto Water repaired 831 water main breaks while road crews serviced some 66, 500 potholes. Every year Toronto reserves $3.5m for pothole repairs and has already spent $1.25m of that budget.
The damage, city councillors admit, has been extensive, but unlike most observers, Mr. Tenn is staying optimistic: “It’s still early in the season. We may have a very good fall, and hopefully that won’t cause” too severe a strain on municipal budgets as this winter has.