The impact of growth is starting to surface not just with increased traffic in the Town of Aurora but now with decreased levels of service and not even at reduced costs. When there is any type of service level reduction in the Town – that is usually a pretty good sign that the Town is growing. Last fall, the previous Aurora Town Council during the September 9th, 2014 Town Council meeting approved new service levels; in fact, reduced service levels for the Town’s winter maintenance service. More roads and sidewalks to clear with a growing population combined with the Town’s limited staffing presented challenges for the contract renewal.
“THAT staff be directed to provide winter maintenance service levels in accordance with the policies while striving to maintain existing community satisfaction.” ~ Town of Aurora Report IES14-047
The question is – was our community satisfied with the downgraded level of winter maintenance service this winter? Given this item came back to the Council chamber at Town Hall on February 24, 2015, it’s a pretty good indication that enough may not have been done to ‘maintain existing community satisfaction’. It appears that the days of superior winter maintenance services are gone in Aurora.
Here is an interesting equation to contemplate: with the Town’s increased growth we receive reduced level of service and increased property taxes. Is growth really a good thing then?
“As always I expect accountability, nothing more, nothing less.”
Relaxing in the evening after a long day of work we often watched the snow plow zooming around our subdivision street, not once, not twice but sometimes three times in a short period of time. We watched it more than the TV. Maybe it was that flashing blue light, who knows? We used to have a joke that the snow plow driver’s girlfriend lived on our street. The second assumption was a member of Council either lived on our street or had a friend/family member close by. Well, with the new contract and reduced levels of service we can’t determine if the snow plow driver was dumped by his girlfriend or he was dumped by the Town. Either way he’s not coming around that frequently anymore. We miss him but not 100%.
I have to emphasize I am speaking from my own past experience with snow removal in Aurora because I heard from some folks in Town that their service was never as superior as ours was.
This winter the snow removal service for our street was good enough for the cars on the road. The sidewalk snow removal service was great even though we always cleared our section of the sidewalk. Typically the most challenging part was cleaning the accumulation of snow at the end of the driveway. Whether we cleaned our driveway before or after the snow plow, we would always end up with an accumulation of snow at the end of our driveway to clean again. That was mainly because the snow plow was passing too many times. But not this year. Fewer snow plow passes meant less snow at the end of our driveway. It worked out better for us.
Unfortunately there were areas where the reduced plowing was obvious. For example, it seemed that coming out of our subdivision onto the main road wasn’t the best this winter. For some strange reason the snow was left unplowed at the traffic light intersection making it hard to drive out once the lights changed and equally hard to drive into the subdivision. The scenario actually posed a safety concern because we were dealing with a busy intersection.
Here is an explanation of who is responsible for servicing, an excerpt from the Town’s site: “The Town is serviced by three types of Roads, the Regional Road network such as Wellington Street and Bayview Avenue, Primary roads such as Industrial Parkway, and Secondary roads such as cul-de-sac and low volume local roads. Regional roads are cleared by York Region. The Primary and Secondary roads are the responsibility of the Town.” Source: Winter Maintenance and Snow Removal.
So according to the definition our closed circuit subdivision street falls under the cul-de-sac and low volume road category. But the traffic light intersection falls under the Regional Road category. And interestingly the subdivision entrance/exit where the Region and Town services should overlap is where the most snow was left behind uncleared.
More about our Town’s service that you should know: “At the beginning of a snowfall or freezing rain, all primary roads with high volume traffic are salted first. Then all secondary roads with low volume traffic are sanded at hills, intersections and curves. After eight (8) centimetres or three (3) inches of snow accumulation (with the exception of Yonge Street which is five (5) centimetres) all primary and secondary roads are plowed.” Source: Winter Maintenance and Snow Removal.
I also read the Service Level Review for Winter Maintenance and Revised Policies General Committee Report No. IES14-047 from September 2nd, 2014, many, many pages. Not my cup of tea to read through. I was looking for the Town of Aurora’s past winter maintenance snow removal records to justify the decreased service and increased costs for this winter season. For example, I expected to see stats such as: annual sidewalk length increase to be maintained, annual road length increase to be maintained, number of major snowfalls per winter season, tonnes of salt used, tonnes of sand used, total costs, number of calls received, type of complaints.
I think seeing those metrics would give us a better picture and explanation of the tax dollars spent. I think that there should be a simpler representation of the winter maintenance service rather than that lengthy report presented. I really didn’t get much out of that report, way too much process detail for the Council and us to absorb. A detailed set of procedures of what is going to be done, and seeing so much to be done I wonder if it is ever done. This is something to think about. It is human nature to write these lengthy processes and most of the time never follow them. Look what happened this winter.
Of course, these are observations of a by-stander and a tax-payer watching their tax dollars being spent. I may be wrong speculating about our snow removal and sidewalk salting practices but I believe the scenarios are interesting to note. With tax dollars increasing every year these scenarios should be questioned.
So I am not so concerned with the downgraded service as long as it does not pose safety concerns. The removal of snow where small side streets join up with main roads is a must. Putting priority on sidewalks near schools may be a good idea as well. It is expected that winter service maintenance throughout the town is the same for everyone. Both cost and effectiveness of the service need to be considered when making decisions. As always I expect accountability, nothing more, nothing less.
Anna Lozyk Romeo