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$21.5M deficit for city's winter ops budget

The numbers are in and Mother Nature was not particularly kind to Ottawa last year, and that includes the city's winter operations budget.

The Roads, Traffic Operations and Maintenance department is facing a $21.5 million deficit. The figures would have been even gloomier if the department didn't post the small surplus related to summer work. That cost overrun is prompting City Roads Manager Kevin Wylie to look at scaling back winter operations works so that only the minimum standards are achieved.

"We were well over budget in 2013, that's not good news. And we need strategies to contain those costs," he said. "We are (exceeding standards) right now. I can firmly say we are providing very good service when you compared to our maintenance quality standards," he told reporters after Wednesday's transportation committee meeting.

Wylie says the 272 cm of snow that fell last year is higher than the average 236, and a couple of major winter wallops wallops drove up the cost.

A late December storm saw 40 cm of snow, 18 mm of freezing rain, and 4 mm of rain, and set the city back almost $12 million.

One of the most expensive components of winter maintenance is snow removal, when snow along the sides of roads is trucked out.

Wylie said how the city is growing and building new homes is contributing to higher costs. Rows upon rows of tall and narrow town homes, smaller lawns and wider driveways don't leave a lot of room to store snow, and it ends up putting pressure on the bottom line.

"And now we're intensifying those developments, and it's for the right reason. I mean, we're trying to do it, it's a city planning function and it's the right thing to do. But it does cause us a maintenance cost headache. That's the biggest trend we're seeing."

Just last week the planning committee approved a proposal that would let more suburban homeowners widen their driveways. That recommendation is up for final approval at next week's city council meeting.

The city treasurer is expecting the city to get out of the red. Marian Simulik told councillors that surpluses from other departments should help pare down that $21.5 million deficit, though those exact figures won't be known until March. The winter operations reserve fund currently contains about $10 million and will be tapped into if needed.

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