With winter around the corner and delays in amending an existing snow removal program, seniors and those unable to remove snow from their property will likely have to pay out of pocket for removal services for another winter season.
Scott Hamilton, councillor for Ward 7, put forth a motion in Feb. 2022 asking to amend the city's existing snow removal program for seniors and special needs groups to make the service free of charge.
The city was supposed to have finished its report in spring 2022 and presentation to the previous council, but it won’t be seen until next month.
“Originally, it was supposed to come back in the second quarter,” said Hamilton. “It will be coming back to council as part of the budget processes, so we'll be definitely dealing with this motion in February at the latest.”
The current program has been in place since 2005 and provides funding to Community Support Connections (CSC), a non-profit that connects those who need help removing the snow in the 36-hour window required by city by-law.
“CSC have what they call a snow buddy, travel out to the person's home and shovel their snow. The difficulty is that this is still at the cost of that senior or of that Cambridge resident,” added Hamilton.
Despite winter weather already arriving in the city, the cost to those eligible for the service is still $22 an hour.
Hamilton proposes making this service free by increasing funding given to the CSC. For the last 15 years the city has included the snow buddies in their budget, but funding has remained the same.
While snow removal was a big topic for Hamilton and those in his ward, one of the main things seniors asked of him was to not raise taxes. With the rising cost of living and inflation, their fixed income is becoming stretched so thin, they can’t afford to take unexpected hits, he added.
“If we help those who are associated with snow buddies and a few more who join in the coming years, we are talking about hundreds of people not thousands,” said Hamilton. “It would be a tax increase of a few cents.”
The city has put off finishing the report and delayed it due to staffing issues and the recent election, said Yogesh Shah, deputy city manager of infrastructure services.
“As per council direction, various options to enhance the winter sidewalk community support program will be released in December as part of the 2023 draft budget,” said Shah. “These options will be available for the public as well as the council to review.”
The city decided that since this has to do with an increase in budget, it should be saved for the incoming council and not decided by their predecessors, he added.
The city's population has grown from 110,000 in 2005 when the program first started to 138,000 in 2021. The population is also aging.
According to data from the 2021 census, 30.6 per cent of Cambridge residents are 50 or older, up 27 per cent from 2016.
“I think right now we're looking at just over 22,000 seniors in the community. Granted, not all of those seniors would need this service, but there are those that have health issues and have cognitive issues that do really need help,” noted Hamilton.
While Hamilton would have liked to have his motion passed for this current year, the public will have their say when it is added to the council agenda.
“I'm looking forward to it coming back to council and to keep advocating on behalf of the seniors in our community and those that struggle with accessibility and movement issues in the winter,” Hamilton said. “I'm hopeful that a year from now we'll have new support in place for people in the community that really need them.”
To become a member of the CSC and take advantage of the snow buddy program, information can be found on the CSC website.