The City of Merritt is exploring ways to help elderly and disabled members of the community clear snow from their homes.

Staff are in the process of establishing a Snow Angels program, where community members volunteer to help those in need with snow removal.

An application to launch the program has been submitted to the province, and staff were hoping to have it up and running for this winter, said Sean Smith, the city’s director of corporate services, at a regular council meeting on Jan. 22. 

However, there is a six-week waiting period before they can start calling for volunteers and conducting the necessary criminal record checks for the applicants.

“So we are really hopeful that we will have a full-fledged, up-and-running snow angels program for this next winter, and we would like to even trial run it a little bit at the tail end of this one just to hopefully work out some of the kinks, but until we get that final approval we aren’t really going to be able to launch with anything,” Smith said.

Another issue with snow removal in the city was identified at Tuesday’s meeting by Coun. Kurt Christopherson, who noted snow often does not get removed on sidewalks in front of vacant buildings.

“Who is responsible for those?” he asked.

Smith explained the responsibility lies with the property owner. He said staff are planning on building up a list of all vacant properties in town to send a memo to the owners encouraging them to make snow removal arrangements.

“The biggest issue right now is making a list of the inventory of the properties that are potentially problematic,” he said, noting he would rather focus on public education rather than increased bylaw enforcement.

Coun. Fehr stressed city staff can take all kinds of initiatives, but cannot do it all alone.

“The businesses, the property owners, the residents — we all have a responsibility because clearing sidewalks is a big deal for seniors and for people with disabilities,” he said. “It is a community effort.”

Staff not seeking snow removal budget increase in 2019.

After coming $46 under budget for snow removal last year, the city’s public works department is not seeking more spending money in 2019.

“I don’t see a major increase coming this year,” said Charlie Henderson, the city’s superintendent of public works, at the Jan. 22 meeting of council.

Over the past eight years, the city has averaged $70,000 on snow removal, Henderson said. The budget was increased from $72,746 in 2017 to $89,453 in 2018, and the city managed to stay $46 under budget last year.

(Photo courtesy of the City of Merritt.)

Henderson was granted a budget increase for new materials in 2018, which funded equipment such as a brine maker, a storage facility for salt and sand in the public works yard and a multi-directional front plow for one of the city’s trucks. Henderson said these upgrades have given the public works department the tools and operational efficiency they need to manage snow in the city.

While Merrittonians have seen a fair amount of the white stuff the past couple of years,  Henderson stressed Merritt has a mild climate and it is possible residents will not see another heavy winter for several years.

Mayor Linda Brown said four people have come to her office to compliment the city’s snow removal so far this winter and the equipment upgrades.

Henderson agreed the new equipment and full roster of six staff  is doing the trick.