Five years ago I remember having residents call me feeling embarrassed when they had visitors come to town because of the state of our roads and sidewalks. I remember summers as a City Councillor that were consumed by conversations with residents frustrated about the time it took to get their streets swept or their back lanes graded.
I’ve learned over the years that if we can’t get the basics right—fixing roads, providing predictable water and sewer services, keeping traffic flowing—we risk losing the confidence of the public in our ability to deliver on the other things that build quality of life in our community, from culture, leisure, and sports facilities to community safety to environmental sustainability. These core services that we all rely on every day are so important for our city, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve.
In the last five years I am proud of the progress we have made on fixing our roads, sidewalks, waterlines, bridges, and parks.
Thanks to staff-led innovations we have found efficiencies and modernized our street sweeping, back lane grading, and snow clearing. We have also transformed our processes for responding to concerns raised by citizens to take a much more citizen-first problem-solving approach.
While we still have a lot of work to do and I still receive concerns about our services, we are now able to focus much more on the big picture issues facing our City and do more preventative work as opposed to dealing with things after they’ve reached their breaking point. This is something that we can be proud of as a community.
Below are just some of the ways that the City is working on getting the basics right. This update lays out the results of a lot of hard work by our staff and Council, with your input and investment of tax dollars to make a difference.
Reliable, Clean Water
One of the important ways that we’re modernizing older neighbourhoods is by replacing the water mains. The end result of this work sees 100-year-old infrastructure completely replaced, and the roads get redone at this time as well. The new infrastructure is less prone to breaking in the extreme colds of our winter and it is an essential way of preparing our neighbourhoods for the future.
In 2018, 26 kms of water and sewer mains were replaced, and work is happening this year in City Park and Riversdale to continue with these replacements. When I started on Council, we were scrambling to figure out how this work was going to happen, but our staff created a comprehensive strategy to retrofit older neighbourhoods for the future.
To make these investments more affordable for the City, we also share the cost with the provincial and federal governments as these are essential investments in the well-being of our community. Recently the provincial and federal governments announced tens of millions of dollars to help expand and enhance our water and wastewater facilities, setting us up for growth in the future.
Preventing Basement Flooding
The City is also acting to prevent basement flooding, starting in parts of the city that are most affected. The challenge is to find a way to deal with the increasingly frequent extreme rains, which our storm drains weren’t designed to handle.
This is a big undertaking, and work will happen over 9 years to address 10 different areas in the city. The first area addressed by this plan is around 1st Street East and Dufferin Avenue. The City will be constructing a dry pond to hold the excess runoff after a big rain in WW Ashley Park. To accommodate this new pond, the City has worked with the public school division and the local community to relocate the sports field in this park to Aden Bowman Collegiate.
Better Roads and Sidewalks
When I started as a City Councillor, the condition of our roads was the number one issue that came up as a constant source of frustration for residents. Our roads had deteriorated for years, the result of not investing enough on resurfacing or fixing potholes.
In 2014, City Council decided to turn the condition of our roads around. Since then, we’ve made roads a priority, and as a result the average road gets resurfaced or repaired every 18 years, as opposed to once every 83 years as it used to be. In 2011, we invested $4.38M into road repair and $300K into sidewalks, and in 2019 we invested $54M into road repair and $5.4M into sidewalks.
Although there are still improvements to be made throughout the city, we’re at the stage where much of our work can be preventative, so instead of filling a pothole we can treat the road to help prevent potholes in the first place.
In 2019 the City is projecting to fix 183 kms of roadways, including a portion of Circle Drive and rehab work on the Sid Buckwold Bridge. Alongside roadwork, Council has been increasing funding for sidewalks to improve accessibility in our community. The City has also stopped using asphalt to repair sidewalks, and last year the City improved 33 kms of sidewalks, more than double the amount that was fixed in the last four years combined.
The full plan for which roads will be repaired from 2019-2021 can be found online.
Better Snow Clearing
Saskatoon is a winter city in the truest sense of the term, but with the winter fun comes the challenge of keeping our city accessible and safe for getting around. Snow clearing is one of the municipal services that has the greatest impact on people’s quality of life.
The City is plowing more, finding ways to make these operations more efficient, and to communicate better with the public. Recently the City began a new technique for plowing Circle Drive that both gets the job done faster and saves the City $300-500K annually. We’re also becoming more sophisticated about when to send out graders and plows and what combination of materials should be put on roads to maximize traction (salt, salt and sand, pre-wet mixture, etc). Another improvement is in how we are communicating our snow responses to the public, through both social media and traditional media. This makes us more transparent about how much equipment is out and what the city is doing in response to the snowfall.
When I started on Council in 2006, there was only $3,151,300 in the snow and ice budget, and we’ve been increasing this to keep up with a growing city and to improve response times, better clear bus routes and school zones, and to better respond to extreme weather events. By 2010 we budgeted $6,813,200, and now in 2020 we’ve budgeted almost $14 million.
Keeping our Parks Green
Maintaining the grass, pathways, and play structures in parks is an important part of creating a strong quality of life for citizens.
As our City continues to grow, we have to make sure that we are maintaining our parks efficiently and effectively. Since 2014, we’ve added over 118 hectares (over 290 acres) of park space managed by the City. One exciting development in this area is ongoing work with the neighbourhood developer to create a pilot project in Brighton to irrigate the parks with raw water, meaning that the City can save money by not having to treat the water first. The City has also invested in technological improvements to make watering more efficient throughout the city.
Saskatoon’s urban forest is a cherished asset, but it’s under threat due to a changing climate and trees becoming more susceptible to pests. During the latest budget deliberations, City Council established a reserve fund to deal with the removal and replacement of diseased trees.
For more information on parks, you can check out the Parks Division’s 2018 annual report.
Improved Citizen Service
A key piece of getting the basics right is making sure that City staff respond promptly and effectively to service and information requests.
So you can get the help you need anytime, we set up the 24-hour Customer Care Centre (which can be contacted either at 306-975-2476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org). We have also improved customer service training for staff throughout the City.
These are all steps toward the ultimate goal of creating a 3-1-1 call and email centre for all work requests, questions, or concerns, helping to give citizens an improved all-in-one stop for dealing with the City. Many staff members are working hard to bring this vision to reality, and I’m very thankful for their leadership and their desire to improve our community.
Getting the basics right is a foundational piece of city building. These core services make a huge difference in the everyday lives of citizens, and I would like to thank the staff that provide these services throughout the year. We have work left to do, but we’re on the right track.
For more information on ways that the City is saving money, you can check out the 2018 Service, Savings & Sustainability Report.