Infrastructure tale of woe goes federal

UBCM presses federal government for plan of action.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities took its infrastructure tale to the federal government last week.

While Cranbrook City Council didn’t attend the Ottawa meeting, acting Mayor Bob Whetham said the city was well-represented.

“The message delivered to the federal government was communities need a 20-year plan that provides stable, predictable funding in line with the level of infrastructure investment from the 1950s to the mid-1970s,” he said.

The UBCM joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to discuss the federal government’s Long-term Infrastructure Plan.

UBCM reps took in presentations by federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. They also met with cabinet ministers and MPs to voice their concerns about crumbling infrastructure across the country.

MP for Kootenay-Columbia David Wilks took part in the meetings, and said the federal government is well aware of the problems faced by municipalities.

“As a former Mayor of Sparwood, I understand the strains that are put on communities when it comes to infrastructure,” he said.

Wilks said he spoke with the Mayors of Quesnel and Nelson and heard what they had to say about their streets, sewage and other concerns. While he didn’t hear directly from Cranbrook, Wilks said the message was loud and clear.

“Infrastructure is a challenge for all communities,” he said. “I can understand Mayor (Wayne) Stetski’s concerns.”

Wilks noted some frustration expressed by the larger municipalities, but in his experience, smaller ones have a tougher time coming up with the money because they have a smaller tax base to collect from.

“I would argue with them that the smaller communities have a more difficult time finding funding for infrastructure,” he said.

Whetham said the city has yet to hear what happened at the meetings, or if help is on the way but Information from those meetings will be funnelled back to Cranbrook and the other municipalities.

“We don’t know the outcome of the meeting or if Minister Lebel will consider any additional funding as a result of the meeting,” he said. “UBCM, which represents all municipalities in British Columbia, including Cranbrook took the lead in the meeting with the federal government.”

Wilks said there is simply no funding available to increase infrastructure spending, and any new money would have to be taken from somewhere else.

The UBCM delegates told the federal government annual spending on infrastructure needs to expand from $3.25 billion to $5.75 billion that would be matched by the provinces, territories and local governments. They also told the government the process needs to be streamlined and red tape needs to be eliminated to allow easier access to funding.

Whetham said that after hearing the state of Cranbrook’s infrastructure at the regular council meeting on November 19, the city believes they are not at the top of the list when it comes to worst infrastructure issues in the country.

“Based on the presentation of the city’s director of engineering Jamie Hodge, to council on November 19, we are in the middle of the pack nationwide, when it comes to the state of our existing infrastructure,”

Hodge told council the city would need to spend $59 million next year to bring the roadway system up to an acceptable condition. On top of that, the city’s remaining infrastructure — including water, sewer, stormwater, buildings and so on — needs an investment of $48 million for it to be up to scratch, meaning the city has an infrastructure deficit of $107 million.

Cities like Cranbrook are pushing the provincial and federal governments to adopt a better funding structure that could streamline desperately needed repairs.

“What the City of Cranbrook needs is a consistent and predictable funding formula,” Whetham said. “Right now we don’t have that. The city would certainly support the one-third, one-third formula.”

Wilks said the federal gas tax is given directly to the FCM, so any requests to change the system would have to be directed to them.

Now the city, like others in the country will wait and see what the federal government has to say about the infrastructure troubles.

“Right now all communities are waiting on a response from the federal government and we will all go from there,” Whetham said. “This really needs to be a collective program with all levels of government in support, to help deal with our infrastructure.”