Editorial: Snow-clearing services don't seem to be living up to taxpaying residents' expectations

Whenever the snow really starts flying in Thompson, usually sometime in November, though it sometimes happens early in October, you can be pretty certain that complaints about the state of local roads are not going to be far behind.

A letter to the editor that appeared in print in the Nov. 27 Thompson Citizen generated a great deal of interest online, including on Facebook, as residents took to the keyboard to decry the conditions of Thompson’s roads, many of which had not yet been cleared following the first big snowfall of the season, which occurred in early November.

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And while people are quick to complain, whether on the internet or over coffee, it isn’t simply a case of sour grapes. though that doesn’t excuse people phoning up the public works department and berating the clerk who answers the phone, since that isn’t who is making the high-level decisions.

City governments are, in many ways, the level that most affects people in their day-to-day lives. Municipal governments are in charge of roads and sidewalks, parks, arenas and other recreational facilities, and the water that we use to brush our teeth, clean our bodies, wash the dishes, cook with, drink and flush the toilet. Basically, all the things we use every day. And, when it comes to snow removal, people do understand that every street can’t be cleared in a day or two, but their patience is limited. When one snowfall piles on top of a previous one, and getting off your side street and onto a main throroughfare causes or requires a shift into four-wheel drive because there is a six-inch layer of dirty snow, or you hit your head on the roof of the car because the accumulated snow makes the ride so bumpy, people are apt to get ticked off.

On the part of the city, they have to balance the cost of removing snow with the fact that their limited supply of heavy equipment may be required for other purposes, like repairing water breaks, as well as the fact that the people who work for them are unionized, which affects their ability to require them to do overtime. They probably also want to try to stay under budget for annual snow removal expenses, because residents don’t only dislike snowy streets. Higher taxes are as, if not more, unpopular.

Budget concerns may explain the city being unwilling to launch an all-out assault when the first major snowfall occurs, in case it turns out to be a particularly snowy winter. If they don’t spend as much money clearing snow early in the season, they will have more around for later. Usually, however, Thompson gets more snow early and later in the winter than it does in the middle months, when colder temperatures mean there isan’t as much moisture in the air, so perhaps an alternative approach could be tried, in which an effort was made to stay on top of snow-clearing early so that there isn’t six inches of it to clear off residential side streets later in the winter. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy and would require shifting some staff to different schedules to enable weekend and evening snow-clearing to take place without paying everyone overtime. But perhaps it would result in smoother, safer streets and happier residents and taxpayers.

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