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The elephant in the council chambers

Cartoon by George Longley

It really is the elephant in the room. A $448 million elephant.

That dollar figure is attached to an ever-growing list of projects throughout the City of Oshawa that will require completion over the next nine years, but have yet to have any dedicated method to pay for them.

It’s quite the conundrum for not just Oshawa, but municipalities across the province, especially when it’s almost like some scary funhouse hallway where cities can complete projects and try and get closer to the end, but as the years go by and roads and bridges continue to age, more and more projects are added to the list, pushing the end of that hallway further and further away.

Oshawa has taken some steps in order to reach the end, but following the recent 2018 budget deliberations, it’s clear council’s actions just don’t go far enough.

In 2017, the city approved a one per cent levy on top of the tax increase, with all of those funds being dedicated solely for infrastructure for this year’s budget. That levy garnered approximately $1.2 million. Now, council has approved a 0.1 per cent increase to that fund, pushing the infrastructure levy to 1.1 per cent, with the possibility of annual increases in the coming years. By current estimates, this will garner an approximately $132,000 each year to be put toward infrastructure. This six figure sum is a drop in the bucket of the massive deficit the city is facing, and don’t just take our word for it. During last year’s budget deliberations during debate about taking $100,000 from this fund for Durham college, Councillor Doug Sanders noted that amount, “is not going to put a dent into what this infrastructure amount (is).”

The issue is there, and council has known for years about the problem, but continues to find excuses not to put any real investment into tackling the problem. However, with the budget approved, it’s left residents with a negligible 1.79 per cent tax increase. So, let’s not cry over spilt milk.

Instead, let’s look at what the city could do with their existing resources.

First, as part of the city’s ongoing work towards improved asset management, a dedicated staff member could be assigned to the handling of the infrastructure deficit, studying its fluctuations as well as working to come up with viable solutions to the problem. Or, if the city was serious about finding ways to tackle the deficit within their own means, they could have their external auditor KPMG look into the city’s handling of its aging assets, and determine perhaps why things haven’t been handled better and how to change moving forward.

With that said, I don’t think the city would like the results of any such KPMG audit.

Over 10 years ago, a report found that if more money were not invested in the city’s road infrastructure, which at the time was operating at 93 per cent (the percentage of roads labelled as in good or excellent condition), the city streets would decline to 67 per cent by 2025. At the time, the city was investing $3.5 million annually. However, two years ago, it was discovered the roads had deteriorated at a much quicker pace, with the city dropping to that 67 per cent threshold in 2016, nine years ahead of the predicted schedule.

This year, the city invested just over $3 million toward roads.

They deferred over $9.8 million.

It’s safe to say council is passed the point of a wake-up call. It’s only a matter of time before residents start to notice the crumbling roads and the issue becomes more than just a budget line, but a real danger to our city.