Talk to a mayor or councillor at just about any municipality in Ontario, or even elsewhere in Canada, and one thing that most can agree on, despite political leanings, is that there just isn’t enough money to keep up with infrastructure.
Road and bridge maintenance, building upkeep – all that stuff can get pretty expensive. However, thanks to a program implemented a decade ago, the federal gas tax fund, municipalities have been getting some help. Although not nearly enough — a 2014 report by Canada2020 found that, at that time, the municipal infrastructure deficit for the entire country was $123 billion and going up by about $2 billion every year – this is still added money that municipalities wouldn’t have received otherwise, and can at least give them a bit of a boost when it comes to infrastructure needs.
While some have taken those added millions and put them into catching up on smaller projects, others have instead used them toward larger ones. One example is the Region of Durham which, since 2009, has been using its gas tax money to pay off the Durham York Energy Centre, a $300-million project that will continue to be paid for through gas tax funds until 2019.
This means that, for a decade by the time everything’s all said and done, the region has poured infrastructure money to a single project and relying on traditionally earned tax dollars or any other grants or loans that may come their way to pay for the rest of the region’s needs.
And if a staff suggestion goes through, that same process will happen again when it comes to paying for a proposed anaerobic digester – which would see compost used to generate biofuel – and a presort facility for the region’s waste, the two of which come with a proposed budget of $72 million.
This would mean that, once again, years’ worth of infrastructure dollars from the feds would be going to large multi-million dollar projects as opposed to the laundry list of other infrastructure issues being faced by the region.
At last year’s budget deliberations, it was revealed the region was millions of dollars short in infrastructure funding, needing another $7 million for 2016 in order to keep up, and that an extra $26.7 million would need to be found by 2025 for needed maintenance, upgrades and replacement projects.
So unless the region’s finance department has an ace up their sleeve when it comes to financing these projects, councillors will need to take a hard look at whether these two large projects are worth forsaking years of infrastructure funding that, based on the numbers, is sorely needed.