District pre-approves infrastructure spending

Trent Ernst, Editor

The first budget meeting of the year took place on February 23 and saw over $5-million in spending pre-approved for the 2016 budget.

The issue, says CAO Jordan Wall, is that if these projects aren’t pre-approved, there is a chance that there won’t be enough time to get those projects done before the end of the year, something the District has historically struggled with, having a short summer season in which to accomplish the projects, made even shorter by the late date of the budgeting process, which is usually passed in May.

Wall says while residential and small business taxes will be down for the year, all other categories are up, including industrial.

This means that Tumbler Ridge is still in a very good financial position. “We have the money, we have the time and we have the people in place,” says Wall, “But we are faced with tough problems and need to make some tough decisions.”

At the heart of the choice, he says, is deciding whether mining will be coming back in the next few years or not.

If mining comes back soon, decisions about infrastructure can be deferred, but if it’s not, he says, the town needs to start building its infrastructure back up now. “Our infrastructure is starting to fail,” he says. “During the last shut down, they had the infrastructure. Now we need to get infrastructure back up to a maintainable level. We need to spend the money now to get things back up so we don’t turn into one of those dying communities, then scale back on spending until community comes back.”

The trouble, says Wall, is the town spent an average of $16-18 million per year on infrastructure during the 90s. When the mines shut down, that scaled back to less than $5 million. “Over the last few years, it’s climbed back up to $10-million.”

But this has not been enough, says Wall, to get the infrastructure up to appropriate levels.

The new spending is broken into eleven categories: lighting, water, equipment, buildings and repairs, fire, waste management, asset management, community centre, info tech and Visitor Information Centre, beautification, and the golf course.

Much of the spending is to cover projects that were starting last year. For instance, the lights for the Roman Walkway were ordered last year, but didn’t arrive until a few weeks ago. And the new ladder truck for the Fire Department, which was ordered last year, has to go back into the budget, at just over $1-million.

Indeed, less than half a million in new spending was pre-approved. The remaining projects are all hold overs from the previous year and are covered by last year’s surplus.

The biggest single new project that was pre-approved was $58,000 for new LED lights around the community centre, continuing upgrades that were begun last year.

A new recycling building for down at the transfer station, at $221,000, proved too rich for Council’s blood and they pulled it from the pre-approval list, as was $85,000 for a new storage building at the Community Centre. These items were pulled from the pre-approval list, though are still part of the 2016 budget.

The new recycling building saw a fair bit of discussion. Wall says the rules around recycling areas have changed. “We looked at plans from last year, and thought, we can put the new bailer in the building we have, but since we need a new building, we can design the building around new bailer.”

Councillor Howe says the recycling program is becoming more expensive than expected and wants to see more information on the recycling program plans. “When I start looking at costs for the bailer, for building, costs are getting higher than expected.”

Mayor McPherson says the idea of recycling is to cut the amount of waste going into landfill. “It’s expensive, yes, but there is going to be a cost no matter what we do. And we are legislated by provincial government.”

Howe says if the District is saving $200,000, then it makes sense. “But if it saves us $5000, then maybe we need to look at this in the future.”

Councillor Kirby thinks moving forward in the right direction with the recycling building. “The community supports it,” she says. “If you’re going to pick and choose what you’re going to spend on, this is something I would say we should spend on.”

Councillor Howe says he doesn’t oppose it. “My issue is that it’s an extra $300,000 in costs.”

The schedule for upcoming budget meetings is as follows:

  • Thursday, March 3, 2016 – 5:00 pm
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016 – 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, April 19, 2016 – 5:00 pm
  • Thursday, April 21, 2016 – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, May 2, 2016 – 5:00 pm