Time to Slay the Infrastructure Deficit

OK, I know I’ve been beating this drum for years.  But, it’s budget time, so it’s crunch time.  If we’re going to do something about all the roads, pipes, parks, and buildings that need fixing in Barrie, now’s the time – let alone the projects that are needed to help us get around more easily, such as the Harvie-Big Bay Point crossing, and connecting Bryne Drive.

Barrie staff have sent cameras through water pipes, used sonar to map the condition of all not only our road surfaces but the subsurfaces too, and looked at all the stormwater culverts, ponds, and pipes that need repair.  Their conclusion is pretty stark – we need to be spending something in the order of $80M per year to maintain state of good repair.  Today, we’re spending something like $30M.  You – our residents – have told us we need to do more.

This budget, Council needs to tackle this problem in a meaningful way.  Overhauling services and innovation will help.  But the amount of taxes going to capital budgets needs to increase.

The math is straightforward.  While getting to $80M will take time, we can make real progress in this term of Council.  We now have a 5-year capital plan – if we decided we were going to make this a “$25M Challenge” – $5M more to capital for over the 5 years of the plan – we could accomplish this with:

  • Debt Retirement – $5.2M
  • Infrastructure Funding from taxes – $11.5M
  • Service Innovations – $4.0M
  • Federal Gas Tax – $4.3M

The City retired some debt in 2014, that will save us $2.2M in the operating budget this year.  A further $3M is coming in 2019.

Since 2009, Council has already been increasing infrastructure funding from the operating budget to the tune of about 0.35% on the tax increase.  This need to increase, probably by another six-tenths of a point.  The degree to which we can offset this tax-based increase in the capital funding – and keep the overall tax increase down – will depend on our success in keeping operating costs down from year to year.

Service innovations are changes such as the LED streetlight conversion project, which will deliver $2.2M in savings alone by 2019.  A further $1.8M would need to be freed up, but I am confident this can be accomplished.

Federal Gas Tax is indexed to inflation; however, the City typically does not fully spend this funding annually (I think we should).  $4.3M more is roughly $850,000 per year more; indexing will probably provide about $300,000 of this, leaving about $550,000 more annually to reallocate to asset management and state of good repair.

Together, these measures would bring our annual funding of infrastructure to $50M by 2019; that will allow us to do more work, sooner, and with less debt.  That is an aggressive goal, but one that Council needs to tackle.


About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.

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