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Jun. 17, 2021 | Thursday
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Town $1.8 million behind in roads funding, report finds
File photo/Pothole

Evan Saunders
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Niagara-on-the-Lake is about $1.8 million short of having a sustainable budget for roads, says a company hired by the town to assess its infrastructure management. 

And town councillors don’t know where that money is going to come from. 

“An underfunded plan is a plan to fail” was the mantra repeated by David Anderson, president of 4 Roads Management Services Inc., as he outlined a report on the shortfall during a committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 8.  

He warned that while the town’s current funding of $3.1 million per year is sufficient to maintain roads as they are now, it isn’t enough to expand, maintain new developments or perform major reconstruction.  

“The current funding level appears to sustain the system – however, to restate it, there’s very few reconstruction projects. It’s mostly preservation and resurfacing,” Anderson told councillors. 

He said inevitable additional construction projects mean that “$3.1 million isn’t going to be enough to maintain the condition of the system” in the long-term. 

The report recommended funding of more than $4.9 million per year, an increase of roughly $1.8 million, without adjusting for inflation or urban expansion. 

In an interview Tuesday, Coun. Allan Bisback, chair of the town's finance committee, said right now there is no clear solution. 

“Is there a plan in place right now to close that gap? No, there’s not,” he said. 

He stressed the need for council to reassess its revenue opportunities.  

“The only way we can close that gap is we need more revenue,” he said. 

“We need to engage with residents somehow to say, ‘Folks, there’s gotta be a way to pay for this.' ” 

The report stressed the importance of organizing major projects among all assets, such as timing the replacement of water mains with the reconstruction of roads. 

“We need to be prioritizing major projects” Bisback said, “There’s a real need to understand the dependency (of certain projects) so that we’re not ripping up roads two or three times.” 

In an interview, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the additional funding is “$1.8 million we don’t have.” 

She thinks the town needs to look at how to boost the roads budget to somewhere between the current $3.1 million and the recommended $4.9 million. That larger number, she said, is the “platinum standard.” 

However, she said there needs to be more talk about a “sustainable budget.” 

“We need to have discussion with our residents and our business owners of ‘how do we deal with the creation of a sustainable budget?’ So that way we can provide the services they want. We can keep the town looking ahead of the game in terms of amenities and how we live and how people see us when they visit. So, we need to have that discussion.” 

She said the issue of shortfalls has been “kicked down the road by many councils.” 

“I’m not blaming the last one. I’m not blaming the one before that. I’m talking about over the last 20 years,” she said. “And I just don’t want to keep kicking it down the road.” 

That sentiment was echoed by Bisback. 

 “In my statement about the budget I said, ‘This is a one-year budget. This is not a sustainable budget. It is a maintenance budget.’ We need to look at what are some potential revenue opportunities going forward,” he said. 

The report noted that there is a paradigm shift taking place within Ontario asset management, with a move away from a capital-focused approach toward a conditional approach. 

The report informed councillors that the budget can and should vary from year to year based on what projects will optimize performance and investment. 

By doing this, asset management becomes a matter of accurate timing and investment, more than setting a budget with an “arbitrary value," according to the report.   

Town staff are set to report back on possible options to increase road asset funding. 

Under a provincial regulation implemented in December 2017, municipalities are required to have an asset management plan in place for core assets by July 1, 2021.  

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