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$16M windrow snow clearing cut will adversely affect seniors, some Toronto councillors say

Some Toronto councillors are searching for a way to save part of the city’s snow clearing budget which is on the chopping block, saying that eliminating the service will adversely affect seniors.

Toronto’s proposed 2024 budget includes $620 million in cuts or offsets and included on that list is ending windrow plowing services for 262,000 homes. Windrows are piles of snow that block driveways and are created by passing plows.

Right now, snow removal equipment follows after plows have done their work to clear driveways. But under a proposed plan by transportation department staff, the service would be eliminated in the 2024/2025 winter season.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park, said her residents have told her during consultations that they’re against the cut.

“I think we have to find $16 million to save that service,” she said. “I think that residents across the city have spoken loud and clear in the last week that it is an important service that they rely upon.” 

Windrow plowing is done primarily in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough where streets and boulevards are larger. The proposed cut will not affect the service for this winter season, staff say. 

If council approves the cut at its February budget meeting, it will save $4 million this year, and then $16 million annually. 

McKelvie said with climate change bringing increasingly wetter and heavier snowfall, cutting back on part of the snow clearing budget isn’t the right move. Many people who own homes in Toronto can’t get out and move the windrow snow themselves, she said.

“I’m absolutely concerned that a cut to the windrow clearing service will impact seniors,” she said.

“I had a town hall last night, seniors attended, they were very clear. This is an important service they rely upon.”

Councillor Stephen Holyday vowed to fight the proposed cut, adding that other offsets can be found in Toronto’s $17 billion operating budget to save windrow clearing.

“City Council often strays off into other areas and spends money on different things, and then turns around and says we have no money,” he said. “So, I’m quite confident that this can be accommodated in the budget. It’s all about choices.”

This isn’t the first time the city has contemplated cutting windrow clearing. In 2011, a consultants’ report suggested the service could be chopped as part of a move to address a $774 million dollar budget deficit. In the end, it was preserved by council.

A woman and cheetah print, a black turtleneck and glasses looks off to the side of the camera.
Toronto budget chief Shelley Carroll says the proposed cut to windrow snow clearing could save the city $16 million annually. (CBC)

On Wednesday, Toronto Transportation Services General Manager Barbara Gray told councillors at the city budget committee she knows cutting the service will have an impact. 

“We are looking into what are some of the opportunities that we can do … to help support seniors if that program does get eliminated,” she said.

Budget Chief Shelley Carroll said she asked city staff to ensure this cut was front and centre so it could be debated when the budget launched last week.

“This is the one [cut] that came forward that really felt frontline,” she said. “So, I advised [staff] when you present the budget you really want to highlight that one.”

Carroll stressed that no final decisions have been made about the program, and that’s the point of the budget consultation process. Mayor Olivia Chow will present her draft of the budget next month.

“The mayor is listening to every councillor, every piece of feedback she gets on it,” she said. “Whether or not it’s still in, we’ll find out on Feb.1.”

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