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‘Beast of a report’: City needs to spend $100M every year to maintain assets at current levels

Mayor calls $100M figure from staff report ‘a very, very rough estimate’ as CAO says council has some decisions to make on how to meet infrastructure challenges
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Greater Sudbury from the air. (File)

To maintain city assets in their current condition, the City of Greater Sudbury would need to spend an additional $100 million per year.

This, according to a report city corporate asset manager Nicholas Zinger prepared for Tuesday’s finance and administration committee meeting.

Responding to what he described as a “beast of a report” during the meeting, Coun. Geoff McCausland called current spending levels “deplorable,” and said he “couldn’t sleep last night” after reading it.

“I really feel a little bit like we’re driving the bus, we’ve put our glasses on, see that we’re going off the road, but aren’t even turning the wheel to avert disaster,” he said.

“We’re going to reach a point where we’re actually taxing people out of their homes just to meet our basic needs.”

Taking a more optimistic view of the report, Mayor Brian Bigger said he actually feels better about the city’s infrastructure situation now than he did several years ago.

The city began working on its asset management plan in 2009, which monitors the value, lifecycle and replacement cost of municipal assets.

As a result of this ongoing work, he said the city has a much better understanding of their assets’ status than ever before.

“We’ve inherited, coming onto council, inherited what existed and we’re still in this process of this massive endeavour of developing a sophisticated asset management system … and changing the asset management mindset of the corporation,” Bigger said.

“I want to make sure that the public doesn’t take a populist or an alarmist perspective on this … Very clearly, the approach to asset management is following the same level of sophistication that many, many other municipalities are following, and in fact, we’re probably ahead of many municipalities.”

The $100-million figure, Bigger later clarified, is a “very, very rough estimate that was a starting point for a process all municipalities are working on.”

The province has mandated that all municipalities develop detailed inventories on municipal infrastructure by 2024, which will include proposed levels of service, the activities required to meet these proposed service levels and a strategy to fund these activities.

While city staff have been charged with giving council a clear view of infrastructure challenges, it’ll be up to council to decide what to do with the information provided, CAO Ed Archer clarified Tuesday.

“Your service-level aspirations drive every dollar of our capital spending — every dollar of our operational spending, for that matter.”

The main piece of infrastructure the city’s elected officials centred on during Tuesday’s discussion was local roadways, whose quality is closely monitored by both city staff and members of the public.

The current pavement quality index of arterial and collector roads is 53, which is considered “Fair.” 

The average annual investment during the previous five-year period has been $26 million, which if maintained would degrade arterial and collector roads to an overall quality of 47 in 10 years, which is still considered “Fair.” 

If bumped to an annual investment of $35 million per year, these roads would remain at their current quality of 53 in 10 years.

The pavement quality index of local roads, meanwhile, would degrade from their current “Fair” quality of 47 to the “Poor” 34 in 10 years if annual funding levels were to remain at $9 million. 

Alternatively, an investment of $30 million per year would bring local roads’ pavement quality up to an overall value of 50. 

The debate regarding what service levels city council chooses to pursue moving forward will be an ongoing one, but one which took place in earnest on Tuesday.

“In order to move forward so that we’re not increasing taxes by 10 per cent a year, we’re going to have to reduce the service level, but we’re going to have to make sure that we’re not giving false expectations to our citizens, our residents,” Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan said. “We can no longer say we’re going to maintain service levels for a three- to four-per-cent increase in taxes.”

Arterial roads need to be maintained, he said, but side streets might have to degrade.

“My struggle is, we have to sit here and say that taxpayers; your service levels are going to get cut, but we’re going to increase your taxes,” Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said. “Value for money’s not going to be there, in my opinion, and I struggle with that.”

Finding “alternative solutions” will be key, he added.

One alternative solution, which Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said the city’s asset management plan will help with, is showing the provincial and federal levels of government what the city’s needs are — to “have the data and backup for the requests we’re making.”

Greater Sudbury will be far from alone in making these requests. 

Today, The Canadian Press reported on the findings of a Financial Accountability Office report, which found that 45 per cent of municipal infrastructure in the province needs repairs, at a total cost of approximately $52 billion.

Municipal roads made up the largest share of the backlog, at an estimated $21.1 billion, followed by buildings and facilities, wastewater, potable water, bridges and culverts.

In response to the report, the Opposition NDP said it shows the provincial government is failing to invest in communities. 

"Now is the time — a time when we need jobs, a time when Ontario needs economic activity — to end decades of uncertain funding and underfunding," municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch said in a statement. 

-With files from The Canadian Press



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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.
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