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Debt policy sidelined to pay for airport runway

Councillor Nancy Diamond rises to speak during discussions surrounding the city's 2017 capital budget. City council voted in favour of taking on more debt in order to pay for runway replacement costs at the Oshawa Executive Airport. This was agreed to, despite it making the debt load for the city above those set out in the city's guidelines.

Councillor Nancy Diamond rises to speak during discussions surrounding the city’s 2017 capital budget. City council voted in favour of taking on more debt in order to pay for runway replacement costs at the Oshawa Executive Airport. This was agreed to, despite it making the debt load for the city above those set out in the city’s guidelines.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

In order to pay for the increased costs of rebuilding the Oshawa Executive Airport’s main runway, city council is ignoring its own policy and taking on more debt.

Due to an increase in the scope of work to replace runway 12/30 at the airport – costs for which have nearly doubled to $6 million, campared to the original proposal in the Airport Business Plan approved last year – council is pushing aside its policy on debt and taking out a further $4 million.

The debt is to be issued through an interfund note, and currently, council’s policy for such a process states that no more than 40 per cent of the city’s minimum cash balance should be invested in this type of debt. The minimum cash balance for 2016 was approximately $35 million, meaning the debt should be capped at $14 million. The $4 million needed for the runway will push council’s interfund note debt load to $14.8 million.

According to Mayor John Henry, the decision was a difficult one and not made before every option was considered.

“It concerned me enough to look at every avenue that we could to find a way to make it work,” Henry said following a special meeting of council on Dec. 12.

According to a report on the matter, staff plan to use $200,000 from the 2016 budget’s anticipated surplus to offset the overage in the debt policy.

Henry, along with Councillor Bob Chapman, is also attempting to take things a step further and looking to the Region of Durham for help.

In a motion going before regional council today (Dec. 14), Henry will be looking to the region to redirect the regional tax dollars collected form the businesses on airport lands to the city’s bottom line. The mayor says the figure is in the neighborhood of $512,000.

“We’re asking that they give consideration to helping us drive an economic engine that has a proven track record in the success of Durham Region,” Henry says.

The meeting was also the first chance for the public to get a glimpse of the nearly $34 million worth of capital projects the city has proposed for 2017.

The runway replacement was part of a batch of time-sensitive projects that have now been given the green light and also includes $100,000 worth of crack sealing work and waterproofing repairs at the Centre Street parkade totalling $1.7 million. In total, $7.815 million worth of projects were approved ahead of next month’s budget deliberations, a tactic council has been using for the past two years, which staff say offers a competitive advantage on costs and obtaining available contractors.

“They will still give us certainly added value for the dollars that we spend,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond of the projects.

The city’s operating budget is set to be presented on Dec. 16, following which all budget talks will be pushed to deliberations in January.