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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Bumpy road ahead to fund better town infrastructure
Coun. Wendy Cheropita, left, expressed concern over information in a report on the state of town roads and its asset management plan. FILE

Wendy Cheropita says she didn’t like what she saw in a staff report about the state of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s infrastructure and asset management plan for roads.

“I found this very troubling,” the councillor said. “Job number one for us is to make sure we have safe and well-preserved infrastructure.”

The report — discussed at the April 16 committee-of-the-whole meeting — states it would cost the town $426.5 million, or $8.5 million annually over the next 50 years, to replace the town’s road system. bringing it up to current standards.

That price tag does not take into account upgrading other elements such as culverts, sidewalks and street lights.

Currently, the town receives $1.7 million of funding from various sources, including the capital levy, the federal government’s gas tax fund and the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund.

The report revealed the results of a study, conducted by 4 Roads Management Services, examining the state of the town’s infrastructure and asset management plan.

Such studies are usually conducted on behalf of the town every five years.

Cheropita requested clarification on some numbers the report laid out. For example, 4 Roads noted the town would need to spend $2.74 million for what it called “short-term sustainability” (short-term meaning 10 years) for town roads and an additional $8.5 million.

“Does this mean we actually have a shortfall of $2.7 million and we have to go up to $8.5 million?”

Interim chief administrative officer Bruce Zvaniga, in the absence of director of operations Darren McKenzie, said he couldn’t answer.

“I’m afraid I’m not really well positioned to give you a firm answer,” Zvaniga said. “I think it’s critical that you understand these numbers and I’m afraid — I don’t want to answer questions on the fly.”

Cheropita expressed some frustration.

“I wish this report had come through before we approved this year’s budget,” she said.

Committee chair Coun. Garry Burroughs agreed, and said “it would have been nice to have had the author of this document presented here before us and to answer all of these questions.”

Coun. Sandra O’Connor, meanwhile, wondered what kind of capacity for managing infrastructure the town has.

“For instance, if that number is $8 million and we gave $8 million (in the budget), would we really be able to do $8 million worth of projects in a year?” she asked. “I’d like to have some sense of what our capacity is.”

She added that she knows NOTL is not alone in trying to fund infrastructure for the future.

“My understanding is that all municipalities are in the same situation regarding this funding gap to support infrastructure,” she said.

Zvaniga agreed.

“It’s true that many, if not all municipalities across North America, not just Ontario or Canada, are struggling with sufficient investment in road infrastructure,” he said.

Coun. Erwin Weins, meanwhile, said the report shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“We have known about this,” he said. “We did, in the last council, get a workshop saying we’re falling behind $1 million a year. We’ve heard it in the news for years that we’re over-leveraging our children’s future today for many things.

“This should be keeping everybody up at night: $1.7 million a year. We’re falling behind,” he said.

The bad news will keep coming, he added.

“After talking to engineering, they’re telling me another report is coming up on bridges and culverts,” Wiens said. “And guess what? We’re not up to that either and so that’s going to be more money we’re behind.”

Municipalities have taken on more of the burden for infrastructure with less money coming from the province through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, said Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa.

“It’s on a declining balance every year,” he said. “Every year it’s reducing. That’s really downloading at its best.”

At one time, municipalities could count on 65 per cent of infrastructure funding coming from the provincial and federal governments but that is no longer the case, Zalepa said.

“And today, that is less than 10 per cent,” he said.

Burroughs, meanwhile, asked Zalepa what is being done about the situation.

“We’re doing the best we can,” the lord mayor said, adding that the town is lobbying with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of of Municipalities of Ontario to get both the province and federal government to do more to help.”

“It’s not going to be solved at this table,” Zalepa said. “Or councils anywhere.”

hutton@niagaranow.com

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