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Municipal budgets strained by winter's demands.

Northern Ontario's winter not only tests the spirit of its residents, it also tries the budgets of most municipalities.

The cost of keeping the northern part of the province's roads open for one season represents more than half of municipal and provincial roads budgets.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation spends a grand total of $27 million on winter road maintenance. The total includes equipment (15 per cent of which is supplied by local contractors), manpower and salt and sand aimed at keeping northern roads safe and accessible throughout the winter months.

"Certainly a significant amount of the budget goes to winter maintenance. It probably is more than 50 per cent of our maintenance budget, but how much more than that I don't know," says Ken Williams, regional-municipal maintenance engineer with the ministry's northern region.

This trend of spending half of the roads maintenance budget in less than half of the year is seen throughout northern municipalities.

Winter maintenance "takes about half of the total budget of $5.2 million," according to Richard Brett, public works manager of road operations in Thunder Bay.

What happens if a severe winter exhausts the money allocated for road maintenance during the season?

In Thunder Bay Brett says the road operations department lets politicians know beforehand. He suggests the crews will start using more sand and less salt.

"We may also not plow as soon after a storm in that case," adds Brett.

These overexpenditures in winter often cause municipalities to reduce spring and summer road construction and improvement, which can lead to deteriorating infrastructure.

George Quirion, director of public works in Timmins, confirms that when his budget of $1.7 million runs out, construction and summer maintenance can become a victim of a severe winter.

David Mills, director of North Bay's transportation and works department, also confirms that his winter budget of $1.8 million represents more than half of the department's total budget for road maintenance, and he goes on to suggest that it is simply the cost of living in Northern Ontario.

"Anyone who lives in this wildish winter deserves a good road to drive on. We have had belt tightening in upgrading and improvement, but there is a real feeling that if ever those roads aren't clear the public is at risk," Mills declares.

However, there are some winter control costs the public does not normally associate with winter, notes Greg Claussen, director of the maintenance section of Sudbury's physical services department.

He refers to the $300,000 spent out of his section's $2.9-million budget to dig out ditches and culverts as the snow melts in the springtime.

"It keeps us busy during the month of March," observes Claussen.

Another added expense is lawn restoration, says Maurice Kukoraitis, senior director of public works and traffic in Sault Ste. Marie.
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Title Annotation:Report on Transportation & Travel; expenses for road maintenance and repair in Ontario
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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