The creation of a reserve fund earmarked for infrastructure repair, rehabilitiation and renewal was considered by Moose Jaw’s budget committee during a pair of meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The reserve, which would draw funds from the 2012 accumulated surplus and an additional $300,000 a year in reduced SPC (SaskPower Corp.) franchise fees from the operating budget over the next five years, would be held until such time as a cost-sharing program is introduced by higher levels of government.
“The money would be used for a cost-shared provincial and federal infrastructure project,” explained Brian Acker, Moose Jaw’s director of financial services. “Traditionally, those projects are on a third-third-third basis, so ideally that $1.893 million (accumulated over five years) would turn out to be $5.679 million worth of infrastructure funding.”
The proposal was met with a lukewarm reception by the majority of committee members at the Tuesday evening meeting, with the uncertainty of future cost-sharing projects at the forefront of concerns.
“I do wonder about a program to set aside money over five years for accumulating a reserve ... as opposed to actively committing that to current projects,” said Coun. Don Mitchell. “Is this (cost-sharing program) based on any current program, or is this just a faint hope?”
“I’m thinking if we’re going to set aside this money every year, why wouldn’t we just add it to some of those lines — like sidewalks or gutters or whatever needs work now, rather than wait for, as Mitchell said, a hope and a prayer?” asked Coun. Dawn Luhning.
“Because we don’t know whether these programs will be available, it does seem to me that there’s so much that needs to be done now,” added Coun. Candis Kirkpatrick. “I’m thinking that (direct investment) would be the more prudent thing for us to do.”
“The unfortunate consequence of that is we only get the money once, so we can only spend it once,” replied Acker. “Nobody can tell for certain there will be these programs. We suspect there will be. ... If we spend our money now, we won’t have the money to partner on a third-third-third basis, and we will be doing a lot less work.”
Coun. Brian Swanson questioned the source of the funds that would accumulate in the reserve.
“I would think, strategically, it would be better to take the money for this reserve from the grant coming from the province as opposed to reversing what I would consider a bad decision made a couple of years ago to strip the capital budget in order to feed the operating budget,” said Swanson.
Coun. Heather Eby was the singular voice of support for the idea.
“I was in favour of the infrastructure reserve when it first came to the table back in August, and I still am,” said Eby. “I understand it would make all of us feel really good to do $393,000 or $693,000 worth of extra work this summer to make the citizens of Moose Jaw happy, but I’d rather see us be a little more proactive and a little more long-sighted, and perhaps do three times as much work (in a few years).”
The proposal for the fund was defeated by the budget committee, which instead decided to divert the $393,000 surplus, along with 26 per cent annually of SPC Franchise Fees, directly to infrastructure funding in the capital budget.