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City gets recommendations to improve winter maintenance

Priorities include tracking plows with GPS, increasing staff levels for large snowfalls

After an audit of Oshawa’s winter maintenance program, consultant KPMG reports the outlook is positive, but some changes could be made.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

An audit of Oshawa’s winter maintenance program provides a positive outlook, but declares some improvements are possible.

During the 2018 budget deliberations, city council approved the completion of a review by KPMG of snow clearing in Oshawa.

According to the report, the city faces challenges with maintaining staff levels above standards legislated by the province.

The KPMG report notes the city’s average annual cost for winter maintenance has been $3.75 million over the past three years,  which increases to $5.4 million when    including labour costs, both regular and overtime.

It costs roughly $1.42 million for current sidewalk clearing operations, including equipment and contractor costs, and staff overtime.

City workers have approximately 123 km of sidewalks to clear.

Oshawa also includes 305 km of sidewalks on regional roads, and 268 km of residential sidewalks, which are not the responsibility of the city.

If the city expanded its sidewalk clearing operations, KPMG estimates it would cost $5,770 per km.

KPMG has made several recommendations to the city moving forward.

It is suggested the city develop an automatic vehicle location/GPS system to improve plow truck tracking during snow clearing operations.

Nine other municipalities compared to Oshawa in the audit use such a system.

Oshawa currently employs six patrol officers who track plowing operations manually.

However, the audit notes, “real-time data is not tracked and updated by the road operations staff in a timely manner due to manual communication methods. This can delay road operations’ response times to issues.”

City staff has said there is $180,000 available to set up a GPS system, with a targeted implementation date of late-2020.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey noted her surprise Oshawa doesn’t have this type of system in place already.

She asked if it could be achieved by using the GPS system on city employees’ cellphones.

Commissioner of community services Ron Diskey said the city wouldn’t generally track the personal phones of employees.

KPMG has also recommended the city review sidewalk clearing methods in areas with high levels of complaints.

The amount of sidewalks cleared by the city has increased by 26 per cent since 2013.

“Sidewalks should be prioritized for compliance with provincial and municipal standards,” the audit reads.

It is also suggested the city create more “targeted communications” to residents about sidewalk clearing by-laws.

KPMG found 50 per cent of instances of non-compliance of minimum provincial snow-clearing standards occurred following two back-to-back storms over the past few years.

Roads operation management noted staffing levels often reach the maximum hours of service permitted by the province, which limits the available pool of overtime staff and can lead to non-compliance.

KPMG also recommends the city look into “alternative” staffing models such as additional contract, temporary or part-time staff who can come in at high demand times to reduce overtime hours.

The city did increase its contracted services in 2019, and council approved four additional temporary staff in the 2020 budget.

Other lower-priority recommendations include improved completion of log sheet and shift forms, and enhancing employee tracking tools for compliance with provincial standards, and further explanations of details and reasoning for instances of non-compliance.

The development of resident feedback surveys is also recommended, as KPMG notes many other municipalities have these.

McConkey said she’s received complaints from several residents about unplowed streets due to parked vehicles.

Director of operation services Mike Saulnier said in these cases, the first person to call in is usually the plow driver.

If there are issues with parked vehicles, the city’s municipal bylaw staff will begin to tag vehicles.

However, he noted the city does not usually have the vehicles towed.

If a road isn’t plowed because of this issue, Saulnier said it’s noted as a priority the next day.

McConkey also noted residents ask why plow drivers do not put the blades down while also applying sand or salt to a road.

Saulnier said salting/sanding is usually done after smaller snowfalls to stop the buildup of ice on roadways.

By putting the blades down in this situation, Saulnier said, “you are basically doing damage to the road and plow blade.”

The city’s community services committee supported KPMG’s recommendations, and the item will move to city council at its Jan. 27 meeting.

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