Snow day

Don’t drop your shovel just yet, says Erica Butler.

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Peninsular Halifax is catching up with the Joneses. For years, Haligonians on the peninsula and in parts of Spryfield and Armdale have been hacking away at their sidewalks with shovels and picks, while their Dartmouth and Bedford neighbours wait cozily inside for city staff or contractors to come clear the way for pedestrians. But that may soon change. This year, city staff will start clearing sidewalks and ramps at all intersections on the peninsula. And by next winter, councillors have voted to bring full clearing service to all sidewalks in HRM.

“At the very least I’d like to see main arterials and collectors plowed,” says Councillor Linda Mosher, who moved the motion in council chambers back in August of this year. Although councillors voted in favour of extending service to all of HRM, that won’t actually happen unless it’s planned for and approved in the SuperCity’s 2006-07 budget. And with staff estimating the cost of plowing an extra 400 kilometres of sidewalks in Halifax at $3.2 million, there’s no guarantee that the proposal will survive budget deliberations this coming February and March.

The history of sidewalk snowplowing in HRM is spotty, literally. Depending on where you live, the rules work differently. In most areas of the municipality, the city clears the walks. On the peninsula and some parts of mainland Halifax, citizens are expected to clear their own sidewalks under bylaw S-300. While some property owners consider this a sacred duty, many don’t, leaving your average peninsular neighbourhood a patchwork of knee-deep snow and scraped and salted walkways.

The difference in service dates back a decade, to when Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax and Halifax County were still their own unique entities. Back then, Dartmouthians and Bedfordites thought it was a good idea to spend some tax dollars on clearing walkways for citizens each winter. When amalgamation happened in 1996, the former cities vied to maintain the service. To be fair to their shovel-wielding Haligonian neighbours, they created a special-area tax to cover the cost. Later on, residents of Clayton Park, Fairview and Rockingham jumped on the bandwagon. They now pay the same rate as Dartmouth and Bedford, about $25 a year for a $154,000 home.

The HRM-wide sidewalk-clearing proposal endorsed by council this summer has some challenges. First, we have to be able to pay for it. Because peninsular Halifax is so densely packed with sidewalks compared to other areas of the municipality, staff estimate that the expansion would just about triple the cost of the program. Including the cost of clearing HRM-abutted sidewalks and all intersections being done this year, the total bill for sidewalk clearing would total $5.7 million. And instead of relying on area rates to cover this cost, council has asked that it all be covered under the general urban tax rate.

Another challenge is just getting it done, and in time. Currently the city gives itself three full days to get sidewalks cleared after a storm. Under bylaw S-300, residents are expected to have sidewalks cleared after 12 hours. So, the attempted increase in service might have the awkward result of decreasing service for some neighbourhoods. An August staff report also expressed concern over the availability of equipment to get the job done. According to HRM’s snow and ice coordinator Gordon Hayward, finding enough equipment could mean going to out-of-province contractors. But, says Hayward, “certainly it’s possible if council gives us that direction.”

Call Mr. Plow. Email: ericab@thecoast.ca. That’s my name, that name again is Mr. Plow.

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