ATHABASCA – Snow removal has proven to be a contentious topic for Athabasca County councillors — concerns over efficiency, accessibility, and staff boiled over during the Nov. 21 committee of the whole meeting, leading councillors to direct city staff to start from scratch.
Councillors voted 8-0 — Coun. Natasha Kapitaniuk was absent — in favour of a motion to direct city staff to rewrite the policy for the committee of the whole to review at the first meeting in January. A secondary motion to direct administration to create a proposal for a pilot project for differently-abled taxpayers for the Nov. 30 county council meeting passed 7-1, with Coun. Rob Minns opposed.
“It’s been said many times around the table, we’ve bashed our heads against this and it’s not working pretty well everywhere,” said Reeve Brian Hall. “I’m optimistic that administration will come back to us with a solution that works for a variety of people.”
Councillors had last discussed snow removal during the Aug. 10 committee of the whole meeting, where the conversation had focused on a ‘needs-based’ delivery model. Currently, participating ratepayers use physical flags to mark their driveways if they want them plowed, but councillors have been hearing concerns from seniors who find the trek to the end of their driveway difficult.
“When we talk about our levels of service, allowing seniors to stay in their homes longer is a large part of that,” said Chamzuk. “I’m looking forward to getting away from the physical flags.”
Electronic flagging was one possibility discussed by councillors, as was a recommendation from CAO Bob Beck based on his experience at a previous county.
“Beaver County did not use flags, people would just phone into the office after a snowfall. After a four-inch dusting of snow, every phone was busy, and it went away after about two hours,” said Beck. “Public works assistants would text or radio out to the grader operators, ‘Hey, do Mrs. Jones driveway’ and it seemed to work. I don’t know if it was perfect, but it worked.”
Coun. Tracy Holland pushed for a more immediate solution for differently-abled ratepayers who may be unable to reach the end of their own driveways to plant a flag.
“I don’t find our current policy to be fair when we have a population that struggles with snowplowing that also isn’t seniors,” said Holland. “I understand that the timing is a bit of a conundrum, but I don’t want to see another year go by without something in place for our ratepayers.”
Jocelyn Whaley, Athabasca County’s director of infrastructure, proposed a pilot program to allow the administrative staff to exercise their discretion for differently-abled ratepayers for the 2023-2024 winter. Currently, the policy has two rates — seniors are able to purchase the flags for a cheaper rate, paying $25 instead of the $75 paid by everyone else.
Coun. Rob Minns expressed concern about the extra work for administration — he added any type of program that created more categories would be “quite an undertaking for administration.”
To Holland however, the benefit would quickly exceed the additional work for the administrative team.
“We don’t have a massive population of people who are differently-abled. I don’t think it’s going to be a big cost for the county and it shouldn’t be a massive burden for administration.”