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Snow covering city surplus

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Last year's city budget surplus may be buried under several centimetres of snow.

City councillors last night quickly approved a preliminary estimate pegging the 2012 year-end operating surplus at more than $250,000, but councillor Jeff Earle warned this year's two massive snowstorms have already eaten significantly into that bonus.

“What you thought you gained in December, you've lost already,” Earle said.

Environment Canada was calling for another five to 10 centimetres of wet snow today, and another five centimetres tonight.

The snowstorms haven't quite blown away the surplus yet, said city operations director Conal Cosgrove. But they have buried a chunk of it.

As of Tuesday – before the latest snowfall – the city's winter control budget was projecting a deficit of about $108,000, said Cosgrove.

That number will hold, he said, “if we have an average year for the rest of the year.”

While the city is over budget in snow removal, it has saved some money on plowing and sanding, preventing the deficit from rising above $108,000 for now.

The December 31 variance report projects a year-end operating surplus of $253,388. The figure has yet to be confirmed by the final audited financial statements later this year.

The city's policy is to put all surpluses in its fiscal policy reserve, a tax mitigation fund used to soften the impact of unexpected expenses.

Acting finance director Lynda Ferguson said the surplus leaves that reserve at roughly $1 million. That would place it near the city's comfort zone, which is to see the reserve at $1 million to $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, Earle has provided city officials with pictures he recently took of damage to the seawall at Hardy Park. An entire layer of cement is gone from the bottom of the seawall, he said.

“It's one of those things that you're going to have to deal with and there's no money for it in any budget anywhere,” he said.

But while Earle expected that repair job to eat further into the 2012 surplus, Cosgrove said the city can wait a year.

City officials called in local firm Kehoe Marine Construction to take a look at the damage, who concludes the work can get done in 2014.

“It's something that needs to get done in the next couple of years,” said Cosgrove.

That will likely be one of the projects city councillors will discuss tomorrow night at a special meeting to map out the city's capital priorities for the next 10 years. The meeting, which is open to the public, starts at 6 p.m. in the main council chamber.

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