Richmond Hill residents don’t support townwide windrow clearance: poll
Feb. 15, 2016
By Kim Zarzour
One of the hottest topics in the last municipal election - snow clearance at the end of driveways - appears to have cooled down considerably in Richmond Hill.
Several candidates in the 2014 vote campaigned on the issue, saying residents want townwide windrow removal similar to what’s provided in the City of Vaughan.
The windrow is the pile of snow left at the end of driveways after the town snowplow passes through.
Vaughan has a citywide program clearing 80,000 driveways at a cost of about $3.5 million, according to a staff report presented to Richmond Hill council’s 2015 budget committee last year.
Adding a similar program throughout Richmond Hill would cost the town about $2.65 million, leading to a 2.8 per cent budget increase.
At last week’s 2016 budget committee meeting, councillors received a survey with surprising results: the majority of residents are not keen on the idea.
The survey showed 52 per cent oppose the proposal, that would lead to a property tax increase of 2.8 per cent ($40 on a $600,000 home), whereas 42 per cent are in favour of it. Six per cent are unsure.
Overall satisfaction for town services is very strong (92 per cent).
A few councillors questioned whether the survey was accurate.
“We don’t really know what the minds of Richmond Hill residents are thinking,” said Ward 1 Councillor Greg Beros. “I know I heard it loud and clear during the last election, people want windrow removal.”
He suggested only those who own a home and driveway should have been surveyed.
“But 100 per cent [of residents] are going to have it on their tax bill, if approved,” Regional Councillor Brenda Hogg countered.
Beros also questioned whether residents in his ward really understood what they were saying yes or no to.
Ward 2 Councillor Tom Muench also wondered if the results were skewed because survey respondents weren’t familiar with the process.
“This is highly different from what we are hearing ... I campaigned on this after I did market research.”
The councillors also questioned the size of the poll.
Alexandra Franek, associate vice-president of Pollara Strategic Insights which conducted the poll, said 600 is the number most often used by municipalities throughout Ontario.
“It is the gold standard. It is the ideal. Anything above or below is not recommended.”
Franek said increasing the sample size to 2,000 would reduce the margin of error from four per cent to 1.5, but would quadruple the cost of the survey.
The poll, conducted between Nov. 29 and Dec. 7, 2015, was a live-interviewer telephone survey of 100 residents in each of the municipality’s six wards, and cost the town $11,000.
“This is methodology that is used across the world. We use random telephone dialing. It’s as pristine as it gets,” Franek said. “If you question the reliability of this, then you question the entire market research methodology as is.”
Ward 3 Councillor Castro Liu and Ward 6 Councillor Godwin Chan also wondered why the survey results contradict what they have heard from residents.
They questioned whether the poll should have been conducted in a different language.
“We may need to reach out to people for whom English is a second language,” Chan said.
Franek said there were no language difficulties encountered during the polling process. The firm explored the option of doing the survey in another language, but experience indicates less than one per cent of those for whom English is not first language or newly arrived immigrants will not complete a survey “so the cost to expand is prohibitive”.
Mayor Dave Barrow recalled the “hue and cry” during the election period, adding, “we should all check when we get our phone messages next time it snows”.
Ward 5 Councillor Karen Cilevitz said she was prepared to trust the survey results.
“I understand [Pollara] is a superior polling firm and the survey was legitimate and conducted as it should have been.”
The 10 per cent difference between those who are opposed to a townwide program and those in favour is significant and “I’m quite confident the survey is absolutely …legitimate in its findings.”
Other survey results showed
Less snow a windfall
This winter’s lack of snowfall has been a windfall for Richmond Hill coffers.
Last year, by this time, the town had more than 50 call-ins for road clearing due to weather, according to Grant Taylor, director of public works.
During the normal winter events, it would take five to six hours to salt the entire town, and 13 hours to plow all roads, he said.
This year, however, there have just been a few spot salting or plowing efforts required, and these are completed quickly.
Taylor said the town normally spends about $620,000 for salt and de-icing materials. This year, town has only spent about $100,000.
The town budgets $2.2 million for contract services, but only spent $300,000
“We are definitely going to see some savings this year.”
Whatever doesn’t get spent this year goes into winter reserve fund for future snowstorms, he said.