Council to Decide on Expansion of Sidewalk Snow Clearing

One of the action items in the current Strategic Plan is to “Explore enhanced sidewalk snow clearing including the clearing of arterial bike lanes and multi-use paths”. Staff have therefore prepared a report to Council at the next Committee of the Whole Meeting on October 4.  Currently, the town clears 13.5Km of sidewalks in front of Municipal properties (including Parks and Transit stops) but individual property owners are responsible for clearing in front of their properties.  The expansion of the service to as much as 57Km would clear snow on some of the arterial and collector roads – the  report provides seven options with varying scopes, response times and of course costs.  The report is authored by Laurie Wills, Director of Public Works, but sidewalk plowing is also done by the Parks Department and this is included in the report.

Trackless Snowplow
Trackless Snowplow

The additional length to be plowed is as much as 57Km – depending on the option.  The labour required is complicated by limitations specified by Provincial regulations on the number of hours worked.  And although work is intermittent, additional full time employees would need to be hired  – although these could be employed on other tasks in the summer.  Additional labour costs vary from $95K to $190K and the Capital cost of equipment ranges from $75K to $870K.  Annual equipment operating costs range from $21K to $51K.

The recommended sidewalk clearing machine is made by Trackless – photo right (Not exactly identical to units owned by Town).  Like the extra staff, these can also be used for summer jobs.  See full report for more details.

Laurie calculated the overall costs for the 7 options (grouped and sorted by cost):

Annual Operating Capital Available Options Scenario #
$ 120,000 $ 180,000 24 hour response
Collectors One Side
48 hour response
Arterial (One Side) (16.6Km add’l)
Arterial (Two Sides) (26.8Km add’l)
Collectors (One Side) (12.8Km add’l)
Collectors (Two Sides) (16.3 Km add’l)
$ 245,000 $ 435,000 24 hour response
Arterial (One Side)
Arterial (Two Sides)
Collectors (Two Sides)
48 Hour response
Arterial/Collectors (One Side)
Arterial/Collectors (Two Sides)
One Side Collectors/ Two Sides Arterial
$ 360,000 $ 615,000 24 hour response
Arterial/Collectors (One Side)
One Side Collectors/ Two Sides Arterial
$ 490,000 $ 870,000 24 hour response
Arterial/Collectors (Two Sides)

The numbers reflect the cost of hiring employees full time although only some of their time will be plowing snow – and includes the cost of replacing equipment when they reach the end of their useful life.

Note that arterial and collector roads are also the roads where no overnight parking is permitted in winter (see links below).

In the conclusion of her report, Laurie says:

Expanding the sidewalk snow plowing program is a significant undertaking for the Town and if we are to proceed with implementation it will take time to develop an appropriate driving route based on the preferred alternative to ensure the most efficient use of resources.

Marketing of the changes will also be important so that residents and businesses will be made aware of the new routes and expectations of their own snow clearing responsibilities. Currently, many businesses and some residents have snow clearing contracts that will no longer be required.

As noted previously, Council should be aware that currently there are minimal private property frontages that are plowed by the Town and any expansion of the sidewalk plowing program will increase the number of privately owned property frontages who will be receiving an increase in service above other property owners who will not [my emphasis]. Understandably, the main intent of an expansion is to provide better service and mobility options for pedestrians and not all municipally subsidized programs can be perfectly equal and fair.

She also notes that implementation will require hiring and training staff plus equipment procurement could take a year.

It’s also certain that there won’t be an immediate decision; it would be part of the budget approval process which will take place over the next few months (see schedule here).

Addendum 1

The full report by Laurie includes rationalizing as to why staff would need to be full time and why it cannot be contracted out.

Sub-Contracting Work and the Collective Agreement

Municipal sidewalk clearing is not typically contracted out to private businesses. Locally, Staff are not aware of businesses that would have the small but powerful equipment necessary or the resources to meet the strict timelines required by the MMS.

Also, in accordance with Article 41 of the CUPE Local 25 Collective Agreement, the Town cannot lay off employees by reason of contracting out work that would normally be performed within the bargaining unit.

Addendum 2 – 4 October 2021

At tonight’s Committee of the Whole Council Meeting, Council decided to stay with the status quo – that is, no additional sidewalk snow clearing will be done.  The vote was unanimous but will need to be ratified at nest week’s regular Council meeting.

Addendum 3 – 12 October 2021

At the regular Council meeting on 12 October, the CoW motion was ratified.  There will be no additional sidewalk clearing going forward


Cobourg Internet useful pages/links

Town Web site

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3 October 2021 5:31 pm

Forget the grossly expensive sidewalk snow removal for just a few….I would personally like to see Cobourg’s Parks Department learn to use the second blade that is already on some of the snow plows and never used to clear the Windrows (snow dumps left in our driveways by the plow). How much would it cost to equip all ploughs with a second blade and to teach staff how to use them – like they do in other towns and cities?

Mrs Bigley
30 September 2021 5:35 pm

l dont think one of the large problems with the snow removal is the piles of snow at the edge of the street – thus making it difficult to get over this snow to the intended business – give it a thought please – has contracting the snow removal – to an independent contactor been considered? “pay as you go”?

Reply to  Mrs Bigley
2 October 2021 1:31 pm

…that and the mountains of snow that accumulate around the pedestrians’ push-buttons at the stop lights such that we have to literally climb up onto them just to push the button.

No exaggeration!

Wally Keeler
30 September 2021 3:56 pm

Everyone is thinking inside the box. I suggest that, by attrition, Cobourg install sidewalks that are charcoal coloured, or navy blue or dark green. The darker the better. we all know that black absorbs light and radiates heat. If the sidewalk is four inches of darkness, that absorbs and retains a lot of radiant heat. How many snowfalls are there in any given year? Ten? And how many snowfalls occur during the zero to minus five degree range. In that instance, the snow would melt on contact. No snow clearing required. How many snowfalls in colder temps? The black cement would melt a good amount, then accumulate for snow clearing. Shovel it once and the sun in collaboration with dark cement will melt the remainder as the day goes on. The point is that black cement for sidewalks will help reduce the cost of snow clearance. The black sidewalk needs much less repair than do all the snow removal vehicles. The sidewalk will be hot in the summer, so wear footwear. What about pets? People walk them on black asphalt, across parking lots. If there is an acute sensitivity, then outfit the doggie with booties just like owners do in winter. So what is the cost of colouring cement? A few years ago I inquired about the additional cost of colouring the crosswalks burgundy by the downtown LCBO. I was told it was negligible. So why can’t anyone think outside the box long enough to spot possible savings. Sidewalks are light grey and they always have been light grey. They have been grey for so long that most human brains can’t think of anything outside of grey. “It’s commonly used in driveways — and especially in gas stations — because it hides oil stains and grime. It’s sometimes used in… Read more »

Last edited 26 days ago by Wally Keeler
Reply to  Wally Keeler
30 September 2021 4:15 pm

That is an interesting idea

Ted Quinn
30 September 2021 2:59 pm

Another consideration would be for the Town to purchase driveway snow removal equipment that would clear the plowed snow they just filled the end of your driveway with. Perhaps more useful to more residents than sidewalk clearing for a few.

Reply to  Ted Quinn
2 October 2021 1:34 pm

As a pedestrian of long standing, I see it exactly the other way.
No one is likely to break a hip because your driveway is blocked.

Last edited 24 days ago by JimT
30 September 2021 11:15 am

May be that Green Energy bunch the Town has can polish up their Crystal ball and tell us if Full time people are every going to be needed in lieu of Global Warming . Once we have these employees we can’t get rid of then , 2ndly the idea that we may be prevented from having Part time or Subcontractors is Crazy That’s unless Behan Construction is a full time town employee .
Lets test the Market and the weather before we Buy the Cow Why can’t equipment be leased
is another thought

I personally would like to see Ms Laurie Wells just finish 1 project that’s been plaquing this Town and its residents , and development for many many (10 ) yrs now , and that’s the issue of Storm water drains , and sanitary sewage line capacities at their Max all over town especially in the area west
of Ontario st over to Hamilton Twsp In our area we are more concerned with the rate of Snow melt than having snow on the ground its far more costly to a home owner to deal with a flooding and water damage issue than snow shoveling their side walk .

Cobourg senior fed up with high property taxes
30 September 2021 8:53 am

Initial reaction – Current budget discussions propose yet another % increase our property taxes and here another extra service is being contemplated. All around town I see signs of basic property maintenance being neglected; Why have individuals’ basic responsibilities gone out the window? This strikes me as another never-ending cost to the taxpayer – do it for one, all will want it.

30 September 2021 8:23 am

It’s about time our town staff and council start thinking on how to save taxpayer money, not spend more..tighten your belt like the rest of the town…

30 September 2021 6:37 am

It’s interesting that so far, the conversation on here has been focused on full-time vs. part-time/permanent vs. contract employees and not why this is even under consideration to begin with.

Effective enforcement of the current regulations on snow-clearing could be done at a small fraction of the cost. If the snow isn’t being properly cleared in front of a property then fine the owner of that property and keep on fining them until it is. If a property owner is unable to clear their own snow for whatever reason then it’s their responsibility to pay someone to do it. If they can’t afford to pay someone then they can’t afford to own that property and it’s probably time to sell it.

It seems that the idea of making shovelling snow someone else’s problem sounds pretty sweet…just so long as the person doing it is payed as little as possible with no benefits or job-security.


Reply to  Matt
30 September 2021 7:50 am

There was another option some years ago – snow angels. Typically the snow angels were volunteers including students who were partnered with older seniors and other residents who may have needed some extra help, like clearing snow and ice from sidewalks. It may have been insurance concerns or waning interest that stopped the program, I do not know for sure. Another source of frustration among some property owners was having cleared their snow and ice from the public sidewalk, heading off for day’s work, and coming home to road slush and snow piled on the sidewalk from a passing road plow. Sometimes that messy road throw had already frozen. I think there was effort by the Town to minimize this since then.

Reply to  MiriamM
30 September 2021 8:36 am

Cleaning up after the plow is frustrating, but it’s an unfortunate reality of living in Canada in the winter.

My point is that the drums beat pretty loudly around here when the topic is other people’s sense of entitlement.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Matt
30 September 2021 8:20 am

With a largely senior population there are many who are not physically capable of shoveling snow. Younger residents likely need to attend to their employment or education rather than clearing snow. It would obviously be more efficient for all snow in a neighbourhood to be cleared by a single contractor rather than requiring that each individual find their own contractor. In any case, why should a resident be expected to maintain city property?

In the real world, anyone suggesting hiring full time staff to work a few days per year while completely ignoring the possibility of contract workers would likely find it to be a career limiting move.

Last edited 26 days ago by Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
30 September 2021 9:10 am

The torches and pitchforks come out at the mere suggestion of a tax increase, so what do you propose be cut in order to pay for this and why are those benefitting from that program less entitled than those who would from this one?

There isn’t an age limit on the responsibities of property ownership.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
30 September 2021 10:46 am

Ken do you think the Town Laurie has tainted the Tender process at this point
by publicizing these cost that she finds acceptable in her presentation.??

Ken Strauss
Reply to  sandpiper
30 September 2021 12:06 pm

No, sandpiper. In a competitive tender situation the potential suppliers are competing with each other in addition to town staff. No bidder would consider purchasing seldom used equipment plus a year’s pay and benefits for a few days work to be a credible alternative to their proposal.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
30 September 2021 3:16 pm

Thats what worry’s most of us NO SENABLE bidder would
but a person with a Pay cheque trying to look busy just might !

Old Sailor
Reply to  Matt
30 September 2021 11:27 am

Matt: Another issue for residents is just trying to find a snow plow contractor that will do residential driveways and sidewalks. I have long single lane driveway beside a neighbour’s house and their long driveway. Very few spots to pile/throw snow. Over five years I went through three snow removal contractors. Not enough money in it for them to carry on a business with an unpredictable number of snow falls. As I also cleared my 93 year old neighbour’s sidewalk as well I finally gave up on contractors and bought a $1,500 snowblower. And the town plow does go by late in the day and dump a deep layer of freezing slush at the end of the driveway which my snow blower cannot handle. That is the biggest problem for many residents.

29 September 2021 6:23 pm

Why is the Town considering buying equipment and hiring full time staff to do a part time intermittent job?
Better and likely less expensive, to contract the work out to local construction and landscaping companies who already have the equipment and the staff.

Without information about this alternative, the report is incomplete and does not present an important option that is available to the Town.

Last edited 27 days ago by Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
1 October 2021 1:19 pm

As one of the members of the Council that decided to do snow ploughing in house as opposed to the contracting out that had been the practise for previous years let me tell you why.

I know that many on the board will want to chime in with many opinions, probably based on free market or anti public service ideas. But unfortunately free market ideas are not economical with a limited snow season, as we found out in 1985. The only way the largest local contractor could make money was to charge more money than the cost of the Town doing it. So local politicians made a wise choice that will still stand today. Basically the tender for the now clearing in 1985/6 was a high one and only one supplier could be found so it was a very easy decision. Buy a fleet of decent trucks which we could use all year with the savings from a contract that we only used for five months.

So if you can find a contractor willing to supply enough equipment and labour to clean over 70 kms of roads and sidewalks for a snow season of less than five months with a service demand of all the snow to be cleared with 24 hours, and still be cheaper that Public Works – good luck .

The only question before us is now is – do we want to pay the piper for the demands of some of us. After all, complete sidewalk clearing is new to the long time residents of Cobourg.

Last edited 25 days ago by Ben
Reply to  ben
1 October 2021 1:55 pm

I think there are two factors that make the prior situation different than the current one:

  • Clearing snow from roads is not the same as clearing it from sidewalks. As you note, the road clearing trucks have “all season” uses and therefore can be a good asset for the Town to have. Sidewalk snowplows like the one shown in JD’s report are generally single use.
  • There is no reason that multiple contractors couldn’t be used to clear sidewalk snow. As you noted regarding the road snowplowing, a single large contractor was (could be) difficult to find. The same is likely true for sidewalk snow clearing. Divide the Town into several sections and contract the work accordingly.

The Town has never been very good at costing “inhouse” work, so I am somewhat skeptical of your claim that the Town could do the work “inhouse” for less.

You wrote: “… chime in with many opinions, probably based on free market or anti public service ideas…”
What exactly is wrong with “free market”?
Is “anti-public service” the same as “anti-union”?
Why is your pro “public-service” or pro “union” stance any better?

Last edited 25 days ago by Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
1 October 2021 2:04 pm

Despite your bias against any claims that the Town can do any work for less than contractors just let me inform you that my condo landscaper tells me that at least three of his fellow snowclearers/landscapers are dropping snow clearing this year, as insurance for that industry is prohibitive to the making of money. So as I said before – good luck in that!

Last edited 25 days ago by Ben
Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
1 October 2021 4:27 pm

Ben, I am curious how the town can do such work for less. Consider that the town pays more and with better benefits than most independent firms, the town is hampered by union contracts, the town does not get a discount on their equipment, unless the town decides to compete with local firms they cannot contract with others having less time critical snow clearing needs, … Where are the savings?

Reply to  ben
1 October 2021 5:17 pm


If contractors/landscapers can’t get insurance at a reasonably cost, why do you believe the Town will fare any better?

You also wrote: “… Despite your bias against any claims that the Town can do any work for less than contractors.…”
My bias, as you call it, is based my review and analysis of 10 years of the Town’s budgets and financial statements. I have yet to see a project that has come in under budget or any that are fully (properly??) costed (assuming costing information is available in the first place).
As Ken Straus notes, the Town’s compensation costs are higher than most local construction/landscape businesses, so it is difficult to have an expectation that the Town could do this work for less.

Last edited 25 days ago by Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
2 October 2021 6:42 am

“If contractors/landscapers can’t get insurance at a reasonably cost, why do you believe the Town will fare any better?”

Because they use different insurance structures!

Last edited 24 days ago by Ben
Ken Strauss
29 September 2021 2:37 pm

…And although work is intermittent, additional full time employees would need to be hired – although these could be employed on other tasks in the summer.  

Why would Cobourg consider hiring FULL TIME EMPLOYEES for very part time work? In a typical year snow clearing would only be required a few days each year. If snow is not cleared soon after a storm then the clearing is essentially useless. What would the new full time employees do between snow storms? Are more summer staff even required? Snow clearing would seem to be a perfect fit to be done by contract workers or perhaps a commercial service.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
29 September 2021 9:06 pm

Maybe the new employees could be stationed at the fire hall and could sleep between snow storms, I’m sure the fire department won’t mind sharing their beds?

Gerald Childs
Reply to  Leweez
30 September 2021 11:36 am

Nice underhanded insult to the Fire Fighters.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Gerald Childs
30 September 2021 12:19 pm

Perhaps not an insult but just jealousy since I doubt that Leweez is paid to sleep!

Reply to  Ken Strauss
30 September 2021 7:33 am

More full time employees creates more opportunities for a larger staff. This makes it easier to hire family members. For example, a Lakefront Utilities employee would not tell me his name because one of his parents worked for Public Works. Even though Lakefront Utilities is owned by HOLDCO it is really all part of the public sector. Also, having snow clearing employees in place may make it easier to justify building new sidewalks. In future years other streets could be added which would provide more opportunity to expand the number of public employees. Just creating the report required public employee time. I was once told it is all about ’empire building’ by a resident during a discussion on un-needed sidewalks.

Reply to  Kevin
30 September 2021 10:36 am

LUCI has several multi generation employees there the madden names are different than their married name s but if you grew up here you would know this The same goes for the town Nepotism at its finest

Reply to  sandpiper
30 September 2021 3:53 pm

They could do quite the TV series based in all the family connections in the Cobourg pubic service.

Reply to  sandpiper
30 September 2021 8:21 pm

Either you are right, or you are just slinging mud.
With offering no proof, me thinks the latter

Reply to  Kevin
1 October 2021 6:31 pm

kevin, from the male employees that I have met at Lakefront Utilities, I highly doubt that they would not disclose who they were to you.
I have found that they are proud of who they are, and what they do.
Maybe some penis envy?🤷‍♂️