One More Load: MHCA to City Hall: Cutting core infrastructure not the fix
By Chris Lorence
MHCA tells standing committees to renew commitment to roads, water and sewer mains
By Chris Lorence
The budget recommendations for the street renewal program in 2020 will further grind Winnipeg into an infrastructure investment deficit, with no strategy to reverse the deteriorating condition of our roads, MHCA recently told a Winnipeg council committee.
The Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works Committee heard public presentations on the department’s budget recommendations. The recommendations include a $36-million cut to local and regional street renewal budgets in the next six years.
In my presentation to the councillors, I said what Winnipeg is looking at, in these recommendations, is way beyond challenging. It is the very definition of unsustainable. Respectfully, I noted, it is not rooted in any kind of plan or strategy, which surely is the very purpose of multi-year budgeting. The IRPW Committee’s considerations were the first of multiple steps in the review of the budget process.
A plan, as its basic goal, would set out the method by which to meet the needs of our streets. Yet, the recommendation called for severe cuts – $36.2 million, against forecasts, through to 2025 – even though our streets budget already falls far short of sufficient. This, even as the City is getting $100 million additional from federal government, up to 2023. So, if we think it’s bad now…
My presentation was the first of two budget submissions to the City, in the midst of planning its 2020 Operating and Capital Budget. The MHCA has called upon the Water and Waste Committee to review proposals that would cut $11 million from water and sewer main renewals in the next four years.
In both submissions, the MHCA underscored that the financial predicament faced by the City – the inability to raise sufficient revenues to meet the demand for services – can only be resolved by a new relationship with higher levels of government.
No municipality can adequately maintain its core infrastructure without better funding agreements with the provincial and federal governments, as partners in ensuring roads, bridges, water and sewer assets are maintained in good condition and are sufficient to the needs of growing populations and the economy.
The 2020 recommendation City Council is looking at for the local streets is $58 million – $20 million of which is the second tranche of the 2019 federal gas tax top-up payment. And thank heaven for the top-up because it backfills the hole left by the withdrawal of provincial roads funding. Without the top-up this year, the 2019 local streets program would have been almost entirely gutted.
The sudden inflow of federal cash, amid the surprise cancellation of the provincial roads-funding agreement, just highlights the impossible task before the city, which is trying to set out a multi-year budget plan and strategy without predictable, meaningful funding deals with the province and federal governments.
The multi-budget planning process, at its core, is hollow unless municipalities adopt transparent long-term plans, are given modern tools, new approaches and hope for a better deal with higher levels of government.
I implored the councilors to rally Winnipeggers to demand that on Broadway, and in Ottawa.
Chris Lorenc is the president of the MHCA and the Western Canada Roadbuilders Association. To read MHCA’s submissions to the IRPW and the Water & Waste Committees, visit www.mhca.mb.ca.