On Monday, January 30, Council began their annual exercise in laying out the spending for the upcoming year for the District.
The meeting opened with the mayor addressing Council. This is the third budget for this Council, so there should be no surprises, says Mayor McPherson. The economy is on the upswing, which is good. Over the year there have been lots of public meetings where residents let council know their concerns.
At the end of last year, a representative from KPMG presented to Council, saying that in Tumbler Ridge, the service levels were high, while the taxes were low.
“It was suggested we are scared to spend money,” says the Mayor. “I don’t think we are. We are cautious about spending. At the end of our four year term, what do we want to leave for the future? A big bank account or a town that is better than it was before?”
He suggests that Council can do both, spending on things to improve the town, while maintaining healthy reserves.
“Staff has done their jobs,” he says. “It’s time for us to do our jobs.”
CAO Jordan Wall writes, in his introduction to this year’s budget, that administration has focused on improving the aging assets across the District.
“With the intent to start paving this year and need to replace large sections of our fleet, this capital spend recommendation is larger than has been experienced in Tumbler Ridge’s recent history,” he says.
By far the biggest of those expenses is $4-million earmarked for paving.
“Compared to the majority of communities in the northeast our roads are in good condition and can be maintained with further maintenance,” writes Wall. “Repaving is expensive and Council should consider the service level they wish to give the community.”
In the core service review that KPMG recently did (still in draft form,) they warned against favouring the ‘black’ (paving) over other items such as buildings and equipment.”
This, says Wall, is something the budget has tried to do. “One of the recommendations that came out of the KPMG report was that the District needs to increase our capital spending. They noted that the District, if it hadn’t already, would need to start to replace and repair many of our aging assets.”
Since Quintette shut down 17 years ago, says Wall, the community has been underspending on asset replacement. While this looks good on paper, it has merely been shifting the deficit from the bank account to the District’s assets, allowing the infrastructure to run down farther. This results in a “race to the bottom,” as KPMG puts it.
While paving is one of the community’s top priorities, says Wall, there are still things that need to be considered. Last year, a company came in to do an analysis of the community’s roads to identify which roads were the top priority. However, while the report looked at the paving, it did not address the subsurface of the road.
Right now, says Wall, there is $4-million set aside for paving, which is based on a best guess scenario.
There are, he says, two different possibilities. In the best case scenario, the District would just need to replace the asphalt.
“If the damage to the base is worse than we think it is, then we will need to replace more than we thought. If it is in the situation we expect it to be, then it will cost more.”
This, he says, would mean a full reconstruction of the road, including in-ground services such as water, sanitary and storm lines and attaching infrastructure such as sidewalks, curbs and gutters and light bases.
The District is in the process of creating a Pavement Replacement Plan, but this is not complete yet. In order to complete this, core samples of the roads will need to be drilled to determine the state of the roadbed. This work, says Wall, is scheduled for February.
“Once we do that, we will know if we need to do a full depth reconstruction or just replacing the asphalt.”
If council is not comfortable making this decision, he says, they can delay the decision until next year. He says staff is confident they can get the work done this year, once they determine what needs to be done.
“The big money question is the subgrade,” he says. “Is that in good enough condition that we can just replace, or do we need to take out the road base? If we take out the road base, then we need to take out the tied in infrastructure as well.”
This would probably drive the cost up to about double what is budgeted.
Councillor Howe says this doesn’t go far enough. He asks for staff to bring back an estimated cost for resurfacing the entire lower bench, a motion which is supported by all of Council.
While Council considered their capital costs for 2017 at the first meeting, something that wasn’t discussed in much depth was how much revenue the District is expecting for the year, however, if tax rates stay the same as last year, would collect about $2-million less than last year.