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Mayor: decision on big projects will take some time

The next step in determining whether any big projects will be approved during this term of city council will come in April, Mayor Brian Bigger said this week.
Greater Sudbury mayor-elect Brian Bigger speaks at the launch of the second Downtown Sudbury Art Crawl at a downtown restaurant Nov. 20. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
The next step in determining whether any big projects will be approved during this term of city council will come in April, Mayor Brian Bigger said this week.

That's when a staff report analyzing the results of November's big projects meeting is due, Bigger said. Almost 20 'big' ideas were pitched at the meeting, including two arena development proposals, an arts/convention centre, a new art gallery, film studio and a local food centre. See the full list of projects here.

"City staff in our economic development department are reviewing all of the proposals that we saw,” Bigger said. “And those proposals will be coming back in mid April and they will all be coming back to council. They will bring their recommendations back to council at that point and time."

What happens then?

"Obviously, part of that depends on the recommendations of staff and the completeness and the quality of the proposals,” Bigger said. “I understand that there's an interest in moving forward with large projects, and there's also a huge interest in maintaining and improving our infrastructure.

“One thing that you're hearing in our council budget deliberations is you're hearing us talk about looking at our long-term financial plans, looking at what we're doing to fix the pipes before we fix the roads, looking at our infrastructure and making sure that we are providing funding toward sustainability."

While there are many demands for funding and a limited amount of dollars to go around, Bigger said that doesn't mean city council won't get behind any of the proposals.

"There are many ways of moving projects forward,” he said. “We can always set something aside -- the equivalent of a growth fund -- to invest in different projects without knowing the specific project at this point and time.

"Those are all things that have to be discussed in council and understanding how we're going to moving the city forward and still maintain the roads and the pipes and develop the projects that the public are interested in."

But Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre said Thursday if the city wants to get federal support for a project, the sooner they apply for funding, the better chance they'll have to get approval.

"Infrastructure projects are on an 'ask' basis,” Lefebvre said. “If nobody asks for it, we're not going to have it. A lot of times -- most of the time -- these are municipal projects.

"It's up to them to ask for funding through FedNor and other agencies to ensure they get their projects coming along and that will create jobs."

During the October federal election campaign, Liberal Leader and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to spend $125 billion on infrastructure projects across Canada over the next 10 years, and to give cities more flexibility on what projects are eligible for support.

With an increasingly tough economy in Canada – and in Sudbury, where unemployment is nearing double digits – Lefebvre said the government wants to start making decisions about where the money will go.

"What we're hearing from the minister of finance is that it is a priority for our government to ensure that the infrastructure funding across Canada come sooner rather than later,” he said. “It's important for the local partners here provide us with their requests sooner rather than later.

"When you're seeing (rising) unemployment and a downturn like that, we need to get people working sooner rather than later. Now is the time, not a year from now. Now is the time to get (applications) in as fast as we can, and that's what we're advocating for, to make sure the money starts flowing and to make it happen."

Darren MacDonald

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