Mayor: Infrastructure rehabilitation about more than just money

Lisa Goudy
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Mayor Deb Higgins is seen at the Jan. 13, 2014 budget committee meeting at city hall.

Bids taken for "overall infrastructure plan"

Mayor Deb Higgins believes putting more money into infrastructure isn’t the only way to solve the city's deficit crisis.

“Money isn’t the only solution. We also have to be able to manage and co-ordinate resources in the area of equipment and manpower to get the jobs done,” she said.

“Our focus this year is a better alignment of manpower and equipment and a focus on the basic services that we have a responsibility (to deliver).”

The operating budget process is essentially complete, pending final council approval, and that budget deals with the people and materials for the required work. Starting on Monday, councillors will start deliberating the 2014-2018 capital budget that deals with hard costs for the improvements.

Higgins said there are “a lot of other issues that impact our ability to get that work done,” especially given how much carry over work is included in the capital budget.

In the proposed capital budget, there are expenses totaling $120.98 million. Out of that, $21.79 million is for uncompleted works that are being carried forward.

Some of those carry over items are transportation upgrades, replacement of the CPR dam, multiplex capital upgrades, rehabilitation of the east feeder line, upgrades to the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant and the pipeline project, water and sewer main replacement and upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

Further, in the general capital reserve, there is $9.42 million in carry forward for core infrastructure projects. Those include sidewalks, pavement rehabilitation, bridges and building improvements.

Higgins said before Christmas, the engineering department received bids that are currently being assessed for an “overall infrastructure plan for sewer, water and the utilities.”

“What it will do is (show), ‘these are the areas that we need to focus on. This is kind of where we need to start,’” she said. “It will give us a work plan for the next number of years ... (about how we can) replace and rebuild the infrastructure that’s currently there that we all know needs replacing. It just gives us a co-ordinated overview.”

She said money for the plan is included in the operating budget for people to implement it and in the capital budget for the hard costs.

She hoped the turnaround for the overview would be about six months.

Higgins added the focus is on building, rebuilding and fixing. Some of the new projects have included utilities run for a connection to the new hospital, the planned new hotel and the Civic Centre plaza project.

According to an engineering department business plan in the operating budget, city staff are “spending significant time on the construction of city owned subdivisions and have limited resources for capital projects, in particular regular water main replacement projects.”

Higgins said last year, the work in the city subdivision in Westheath wasn’t done in the timeframe that was expected. The city gave refunds to a few lots sold because they couldn’t meet the timeframe outlined in the initial contracts.

“It was just too busy a year in a number of areas. So what we’re looking at is refocusing on the basic services that the city is required and expected to provide,” said Higgins, adding the city would look at contracting out work on the next phases of subdivisions because otherwise it’s “spreading us too thin.”

Better organization and delivery of city services is also needed on top of money to deal with infrastructure.

“This is the trial year I think for us and really a year where we need to set some benchmarks,” said Higgins. “Are the changes that we made internally enough? Is there more that we can do? It’s all things that will need to be assessed as we move through this year and move into next year.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Civic Centre

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