Large infrastructure deficit detailed in unfunded budget

Lisa Goudy
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Mayor Deb Higgins details her thoughts on the 10-year unfunded capital budget at the Dec. 16, 2013 meeting at city hall.

Mayor Deb Higgins said the numbers in the 10-year unfunded capital budget are an “absolutely staggering amount.”

“You know what, we just have to look around at other communities in the province of Saskatchewan and we are in a much better situation than many,” she said. “We have a very good source of reserve funds that help support our city and the projects as we move forward.

“When you look at Moose Jaw compared to other communities in Saskatchewan, our debt limits are considerably less than what other communities are.”

She said Prince Albert and Swift Current have more debt than Moose Jaw. The 10-year unfunded capital budget, along with the proposed 2014-2018 five-year capital budget was presented to council at Monday’s meeting. Both documents were referred to budget committee for detailed review.

The 10-year unfunded capital budget has an infrastructure deficit of $236.28 million. Since 2007, infrastructure deficit has increased by approximately $82.95 million. In 2007, the city’s deficit was at $153.33 million.

“They do seem daunting when we see this budget rolled up into one document, but what we need to do is put in place some good plans,” said Higgins. “I can’t speak to what councils decided to do previously. I wasn’t here, but what I do know is that we need to do is look at where we are, what we need to get done and how we’re going to move forward from here.”

Coun. Brian Swanson said the federal government is running an approximately $15 to $20 billion deficit and the provincial auditor said last week Saskatchewan has a $586 million deficit. Counting on funding from those governments isn’t reasonable, he said.

“I just think this whole process really deflects from where responsibility lies and that’s with us,” he said. “Our spending the last few years, if our priorities had been right, we’d be able to stand up amongst all cities in Canada and look at our infrastructure, how we took care of it … The hope that we’re going to be rescued by a miracle is not a valid way to deal with the problems we have. There is no big brother waiting to bail us out.”

Swanson added SUMA did an analysis of information from the federal government regarding new infrastructure programs. He said that information indicated Moose Jaw would receive $100,000 this year and next year.

But Coun. Don Mitchell said while the federal government is in a deficit, over the last 10 years they have also committed to reducing tax revenues, especially from the corporate sector. Therefore, he said the government is “denying the option to identify municipal infrastructure as a priority by reducing the revenue base they have to work with.”

“It is hard to be optimistic. Most of the current revenues, particularly from the provincial government, are targeted to operational expenses in the city’s budget and those are important, but the larger infrastructure issues have not been fully acknowledged and we are … limited in our capacity to tax,” said Mitchell.

“The unfunded capital budget is simply to point out that we do fall short of the resources required to address infrastructure needs which have accumulated over a century and that a vast majority of Canadian citizens face.”

Coun. Candis Kirkpatrick agreed with Higgins in that focusing on the past decisions or theoretical scenarios don’t help make a plan for the future.

“It’s not a pretty picture. I really don’t know a budget that is a pretty picture, but this is where we’re at and this is why we do budgets,” said Kirkpatrick. “I firmly believe that we can’t progress with ‘if’s: If we had started earlier, if we had done this 10 years ago or ‘should’s, (as in) we should have.

“We need to go ahead with now-ons and that’s what we’re being tasked with and I believe that we will approach it in the best way we possibly can.”

City manager Matt Noble said Moose Jaw isn’t the only community with infrastructure deficit and it’s important to try to get help from other levels of government because “not asking for help would be a mistake.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Sidebar: Ten-year unfunded vs. five-year capital budget

The 10-year unfunded capital budget has infrastructure deficit of $236.28 million.

When the unfunded budget numbers are compared to what is currently budgeted in the 2014-2018 five-year capital plan, the gap between what is funded and what needs to be funded is particularly clear.

For instance, public works accounts for approximately $12.70 million of the general capital reserve expenses in the five-year capital budget. Of that, there is $6.59 million for roadway improvements, $3.35 million for bridges and other transportation upgrades and $1.95 million for sidewalks.

In the unfunded budget, public works has an unfunded capital budget request of $74.32 million over 10 years or an average of $7.43 million each year. Residential pavement rehabilitation is at $27.47 million in the unfunded budget and arterial roadway rehabilitation is at $7.28 million.

In the five-year capital budget, there is funding allocated to the CPR Dam in 2014. The project is expected to be tendered in early 2014 and construction finishing by the end of 2014.

The preliminary five-year budget has $1.55 million to repair the Ninth Avenue Bridge. Based on a “detailed bridge evaluation,” the background report to council said that money wouldn’t be needed at the time. It added the Sioux Bridge and the Seventh Avenue Bridge have “passed their service life and need replacement sooner than later.”

However, the five-year capital plan doesn’t address their replacement. There is also no funding for the municipal airport. City administration is instead suggesting an exploration of the “economic opportunities” regarding the airport through a request for proposal to the private sector.

In the unfunded capital budget, the municipal airport improvements would cost approximately $1.31 million.

The general capital expenditures in the current five-year capital budget have a surplus of $8.8 million.

That is because of additional capital revenues of $3.5 million and $3.7 million less in expenses compared to the 2013-2017 capital plan. Council, along with city administration, will need to identify which projects to use the surplus.

"In selecting projects it is important that projects are selected such that work is done in a systematic manner starting with replacement of underground services followed by above ground infrastructure such as paving and sidewalks,” said the report relating to the capital budget.

The parks and recreation department has $5.07 million, including $830,000 in park improvements and $1.26 million for building improvements. Upgrades to the city complex are included at a cost of $475,000.

In the unfunded budget, however, the parks and recreation department has an unfunded request of $78.49 million over 10 years or $7.85 million per year.

In the five-year budget, there is $20.15 million in the other services area, including new hospital funding of $7.68 million and $11.57 million in multiplex loan repayments.

The water utility in the unfunded budget has a request of $62.21 million over 10 years of $6.22 million each year. In the five-year capital budget, the water main replacement funding is suggested at $10 million over five years or $2 million per year.

- Goudy

Organizations: Prince Albert

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Swift Current Canada

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