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London Free Press Business Section:


 



Cutback makes no sense


Ian Gillespie, Free Press Columnist   2004-01-16 03:36:12  



Maybe their eyes have frozen shut. Maybe their ears are stuffed with snow. Maybe their brains are like car batteries and the cold temperatures have drained them dead.

Or maybe their veins are filled with ice.

How else do you explain the latest money-saving brainstorm floated by city staff? How else do you make sense of an idea that'll whack our most vulnerable citizens -- the young, the old, the disabled and the poor -- like a shot with a two-by-four across the back of the knees?

The idea to save money by cutting back on sidewalk snow removal makes about as much sense as spending $4.5 million to earn $75,000 profit from a downtown arena.

Oh. Right.

OK. Maybe it's not so surprising -- but it still doesn't make sense.

Dave Leckie, the city's director of roads and transportation, introduced the scheme Monday to the environment and transportation committee.

According to Leckie, the city could save $200,000 a year by not clearing city sidewalks until they're covered by eight centimetres of snow.

To be fair, Leckie and city engineer Peter Steblin are simply following orders to cut costs. To be specific, city staffers have been asked to cut a potential $2.5 million from a total environmental services budget of $50 million.

But this isn't the way to do it. This just doesn't make sense.

Though I suppose it does make sense if you're a city staffer who can clear the snow from around your house with your 10-horsepower, overhead-cam Power Curve snowblower with free-flow discharge chutes and heated handle grips, then drive from your heated garage to the underground parking lot beneath city hall and never, ever have to slip and slide your way down a single snow-covered walk.

But it doesn't make sense if you're an old woman trying to trudge to the drugstore for your medicine. It doesn't make sense if you rely on a wheelchair or motorized scooter to get around. It doesn't make sense if you're a single mom walking two kids to school on a blustery morning.

It doesn't make sense for the city to encourage people to ride city buses and then, at the same time, make it harder to actually get to the bus stop.

Unless we're looking for lawsuits, it doesn't make sense to cut back on clearing sidewalks at a time when, according to a spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, there's been "a veritable orgy of slip-and-fall claims in the last couple of years."

It doesn't make sense to cut back on clearing snow when local health officials are warning us that shovelling snow can be dangerous -- even fatal -- to those with heart disease.

It certainly doesn't make sense to Kirk Agar, who's worked in the landscaping/ snow removal business for 25 years.

Agar says that by the time you let eight centimetres -- or a bit more than three inches -- of snow accumulate on a sidewalk, it's too late to clear it.

Because by then, the snow will have been compacted by pedestrians and hardened into an icy obstacle course.

Agar admits that just two years ago, he could not have cared less about sidewalk snow removal. But then his mother broke her hip and he was involved in a car accident that kept him from driving.

Now he sees things differently.

"I've had a year of taking the bus and walking," he says. "And you learn what it's like on the other side of the coin."

Yesterday, Agar and his sister helped transport his mother -- and her cumbersome walker -- to her chiropractor.

"I know the frustrations we go through when people don't clear snow," he says. "But what happens to the person who doesn't have somebody to help them? I mean, are we that concerned about our budget that we're going to take money away from where it's really needed?"

I don't know. But I always figured things like snow removal were the main reason why I paid taxes -- to ensure basic services so that average people could live their lives.

I think most of us understand the need to cut costs. But surely that money can be saved by pulling it from another pot -- like summer lawn spraying. Or city hall severance deals.


Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003





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