Thursday, September 02, 2010

Repairing and upgrading infrastructure
(Editorial published by The Daily Gleaner, September 01/10)

Repairing and upgrading existing city infrastructure makes sense.

To echo the words of Coun. Scott McConaghy, we're ensuring that the house isn't going to fall down.

That should be the primary concern of the municipality as it moves ahead with a policy on how to start dealing with the repair and regular replacement of capital infrastructure between now and 2030.

At their first budget planning session earlier this week, councillors voted to continue with a 20-year plan to repair and upgrade 90 per cent of the city's facilities and services and spend 10 per cent on new projects based on an annual five per cent increase in the capital budget.

It's an approach that doesn't exactly grab the imagination of everyone but we think it's a sound move. This is particularly true, considering Canada's 4,000 municipal governments are realizing they can't continue to spend only on new roads, streets and services, without setting aside adequate funds to do capital repairs to existing systems.

Finance and administration committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien said he is comfortable with the city striking a reasonably aggressive approach to ensuring that the investment of taxpayers in existing infrastructure is maintained.

The finance committee chairman said rather than tax hikes, part of the budget process is going to look at efficiencies, reduced service levels in some areas, and trimming budgets in order to hold the tax levels.
Twenty years ago, council opted to eliminate the city's long-term debt and incorporate capital spending into the general fund budget, which was known as the pay-as-you-go program.

Coun. O'Brien said by focusing so much on eliminating debt, the trade-off was that councils over the past 10 years weren't as focused on renewing and repairing the inventory of pipes in the ground, streets, curbs and sidewalks.

We agree with Coun. O'Brien that it's up to the city to take a tough policy stand to complete capital projects it's in the midst of because of the essential role they play in the growth of our city.

But the decision to continue with the 20-year plan does dredge up some concerns and we believe they deserve to be looked at. In 2010, the city decided to increase its capital spending by four per cent to start renewing existing services.

At issue is flexibility and how that may translate into the ability or inability to make future decisions. Deputy mayor Keenan said he doesn't want to be locked into spending 90 per cent on existing infrastructure. "There may be certain years when we want to invest more of our capital dollars in new infrastructure and less in existing and another year when we make it up," Deputy mayor Keenan said. "I'm just a little concerned that this will bind councils going forward to staying within an established percentage, which reduces flexibility."

Deputy mayor Keenan has a point and it's certainly something to keep in mind as the years unfold. We are hopeful that, as this policy moves forward and is further defined, there will be room for flexibility so that such concerns can be addressed and adjustments made, should the situation warrant further examination.

But, we still believe the 20-year plan is the way to move forward. We agree with Coun. Steven Hicks that residents will reap the rewards of having reinvested in infrastructure renewal in 20 years. It's better to fix, repair and upgrade each year than be faced with having to replace the entire house once it has fallen to the ground.

No comments: