A later start for snowfalls in Weyburn and relatively dry conditions have proven favorable for city crews as we near the midpoint of Winter. While larger city centers will typically compartmentalize their various departments and employ workers for specific jobs or seasons, Weyburn elects to invest in training their crews for a wide variety of tasks to ensure they can maintain full-time employment even when some areas of work are slow. Facing layoffs due to a lack of snow is simply not a worry for our crews. Director of Engineering, Jennifer Wilkinson, said that this strategy of diversifying the skillsets of city employees also allows for more efficient work to be done as opportunities present themselves.

"Our crews end up doing a lot of different things. Right now, they're hauling cover from some dirt piles near Souris over to the Landfill, and another thing we do a lot of is sign replacement. We have been having issues with our crossing pedestrian signs because they are solar, so we're continually doing maintenance on them," said Wilkinson. "We also do a lot of training during these times. That's when we make sure that all of our employees have their proper tickets and safety training to ensure they can do their jobs effectively."

Dry and clear pavement in November, a rare sight in Saskatchewan, also allowed for crews to extend their pothole patching season. Essentially, a lack of snow to clear means that crews can afford to catch up on smaller tasks and maintenance items that tend to pile up when they're normally dealing with higher priority jobs. Wilkinson said that less snow also allows for more hands to help out in other city departments. 

"We also shift people around within crews, so if the Water and Sewer crew needs help then the Transportation Department can help with that, or we might need a truck operator to fill in at the landfill," she explained. "Most of our operators can operate multiple pieces of equipment, so if you see somebody in a grader, it wouldn't be surprising to see them in the sweeper or to see them in a truck as well."

It all comes back to diversifying skillsets in order to supply a robust team that can tackle the service needs of the city, and making sure the right training is in place for when the need arises. 

"Obviously with some of our specialized equipment you need a special ticket to operate," said Wilkinson, "But we do put all of our operators through Power Mobile Equipment training, so you'll see them on anything from a forklift to a grader, and we have lots of multi ticketed machine operators."

While on the topic of equipment, Wilkinson was also able to share some insights into how budgets can be affected by snowfall patterns through third party contracts. She said that thankfully, city crews have had no issues with keeping up and they have not needed to hire outside equipment to help clear streets. Overall, the mild weather could not have come at a better time.

"We were over budget in 2023 because we did have some massive snow events last year, so our snow removal budget did increase in 2024 based on that change in the 5-year average," she said. "Smaller snow events in November and December means we haven't been using contractors, and we were able to budget for adding a tandem truck to our fleet in 2024, which is one of our most contracted pieces of equipment for snow removal."

The addition of a second tandem truck would add more autonomy for the city and with skilled workers already able to operate the equipment, there are definite long-term savings to be had. It will take time before the fleet sees a new tandem truck in its ranks due to the processes in place for making such a purchase and current wait times for delivery, but these sorts of gradual and persistent improvements are the name of the game for City Engineering. For now, things are looking good as current savings in snow removal set favorable prospects for as late as April of this year.