Public works crews are busy around town Tuesday taking advantage of the unseasonal weather to get a jump on spring cleaning.

Towns saving cash from lack of snow

Roads and streets bare after unusually warm and dry February.

Typically there’s about 10 centimetres of snow left to clear this time of year. But an unusually sunny and dry February has roads and sidewalks bare and city snow plows tucked away until next winter.

That means a bit of savings in the snow removal budget for the next time the area has a dump of snow.

But it also means spring clean-up costs have crept up sooner than usual.

The short winter has the City of Trail saving about $50,000 from its $560,000 annual budget for winter crews, sanding and snow removal.

While it is difficult to ascertain money saved due to lack of snow, Patrick Gauvreau, Trail’s roads and grounds superintendent, says at the end of the day, what does reduce costs is not having to hire flaggers, contractors and seasonal employees for the purpose of snow removal.

He explained that each complete downtown snow removal costs the city about $15,000.

Last season, there were four occasions for the job. This year, workers only needed to be on site twice to clear the downtown core, which adds up to a savings of approximately $30,000.

Additionally, two of the city’s seasonal employees were laid off early, which amounts to about $10,000 saved on wages.

But the early snow melt has public works performing other tasks unseasonably early.

“With our crews performing sweeping instead of plowing over the last couple of weeks, this translates to roughly $10,000 per week that is being charged to our sweeping account instead of our snow removal account,” Gauvreau clarified.

“This (lack of snow) doesn’t mean the city saves any money since we still have to pay all our employees for 40 hours of work each week,” he added.

Surrounding communities also report a reduction in labour costs related to snow removal, though the savings have been offset by other seasonal duties.

From Warfield’s $86,000 annual budget, labour costs were down 10 per cent since the previous season, noted Vince Morelli, the village’s chief administrative officer (CAO).

He added that the finally tally this year depends on whether the area has a significant snowfall next winter.

Fruitvale reports a $21,000 difference in costs the first two months of this year compared to last; and close to $15,000 less from October to December in 2014 from the previous year. However, the overall amount is lessened by additional winter duties required to keep roads and walks safe.

“Although plowing charges may be down, the cost of hauling is fairly consistent,” explained CAO Lila Cresswell. “And the costs for sanding and salting are actually up $10,000 over last year with more freeze/thaw cycles. So the savings is reduced by that and more in the area of $26,000.”

City staff from Rossland was not available to provide information about the city’s snow removal budget.

February was 3 C above mean, which is not a range that is commonly seen for any month of the year, according to local forecaster Jesse Ellis from the Castlegar weather office.

“Typically, it’s hard for the temperature mean to stray that far from normal,” he explained. “This year was unusual with no snow on the ground in the valleys for this time of year. I had a look over the last 15 years, and this is only the third time since 2000 that we’ve been snow free (in the valley) by the end of February. Usually we have 10 cm of snow or more.”

The combination of mild temperatures, significant rainfall early in the month, and roughly half the normal amount of snowfall allowed Castlegar to remain snow free on the ground since Feb. 8, he added.

Although the month was warmer than usual, the highest temperature, 12.2 C only neared the record high, 14.3 C, recorded on Feb. 28 four years ago.

While there is no precipitation forecast this week, Ellis said a cool and dry Arctic air mass could dip temperatures into the -10 C range over the next few days.

Going into the weekend, a mix of sun and clouds is expected with a possible sprinkling of rain, he added.

As spring break nears, the general trend of slightly above seasonal temperatures is predicted to return for the last two weeks of March.

“It’s looking like a change in pattern toward the end of next week,” Ellis noted. “But things change on a daily basis especially in spring and fall when longer range models tend to fall apart a little quicker than they do in the core of winter and summer.”

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