GUELPH/ERAMOSA ‒ During a discussion about purchasing a new sidewalk plow, council members debated whether the municipality should remain responsible for clearing residential sidewalks.
With funding from the public works equipment reserve, the conversation occurred during a regular council meeting on Tuesday where council pre-approved the replacement of a tandem axle plow truck and sidewalk plow for winter 2024.
According to Harry Niemi, director of public works, by pre-approving the new plows, the township will save significantly while getting the old truck off the road.
“I didn’t bring it up at the budget meeting before Christmas but getting through this winter, we had a few occasions when both the older tractors were down with mechanical issues which caused some hiccups,” said Niemi, during the meeting. “So, in order to get through next winter, to jump ahead, we need permission to proceed with … delivery on a replacement of the quite outdated 2006 trackless machine.”
According to the report, while the “useful life” of a sidewalk plow is 10 years, public works delayed the replacement of the Trackless “while utilizing the new model more often.”
“I think we should get the plow because we had a couple of storms last year and this thing was down multiple times,” said Mayor Chris White, during the meeting. “That hits the EMS, the kids can’t go to school, there are so many impacted factors.”
Staff also cited increasing sidewalk lengths and increased maintenance costs including “considerable downtime this past winter with both sidewalk plows.”
But, while he agreed that it was necessary to invest in the new sidewalk plow, Coun. Corey Woods questioned why residents of areas with no sidewalks should pay for plowing in other parts of the municipality.
“I do understand that the sidewalks need to be plowed,” said Woods. “It’s just how we pay for it is the issue.”
Wanting to know who pays for what, Woods’ questioned the feasibility of asking homeowners to plow their own sidewalks.
“I don’t think there are any sidewalks in Ward One but I know that we don’t have a millimeter of sidewalk in Ward 2,” said Woods. “I’m not arguing against the snowplow, I understand the sidewalks need to be plowed, but should it be an area-rated service?”
Coun. Bruce Dickieson brought up that there are other municipalities that expect their residents to clear snow.
“I know in Guelph only certain sidewalks get plowed,” said Dickieson. “If you’re on a side street you do it yourself.”
But White was adamant that Woods’ idea would cause more problems than it would solve.
“I hear you, I absolutely understand what you’re saying but at the end of the day, it’s not that simple,” said White. “You’d have to do a full analysis…There’ll probably be some areas with very little tax revenue and a lot of road network paid for by everybody so what? Are we not going to service those roads?”
According to the report, public works currently maintains approximately 21 km of sidewalk increasing to 23.9 km once the Bonarrow development is finished.
“Some municipalities have bylaws in effect that require the property owner to clear the sidewalk in front of their home but it’s still a municipal sidewalk,” said Niemi. “And I think in my interpretation…it’s our duty to do it. We can’t really download that onto residents.”
Niemi also clarified that the township is under a legal obligation to clear the sidewalks.
“So the benefit of the taxpayers in Ward One and Two (paying taxes on sidewalk clearing) is then protecting the township as a whole from any liabilities arising from the township's potential inability to keep them clear," said Niemi.
Current pricing for a new sidewalk plow ranges from $150,000 to $200,000 range, depending on the attachments.
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.