Project about "right investments at the right time," city manager says
Saturday, Mar 18, 2017 06:00 am
St. Albert city council plans to spend money to save money.
Council has approved spending an additional $300,000 this year, and potentially $1.3 million over the next five years, to figure out how to tackle a major 10-year capital deficit.
“It’s a significant undertaking but it’s also needed,” city manager Kevin Scoble said. “In simplest terms, it’s about making the right investments at the right time.”
This project is a solution he has proposed to manage the impending capital-projects funding gap over the next decade. If every project on the city’s current 10-year capital plan is approved, there is a projected deficit of more than $300 million.
The goal of this project is to be able to assess the status of current assets to ensure the maintenance estimates are accurate, evaluate the need for projects currently in the 10-year growth capital plan, and review the city’s financial policies and revenue/expenditure forecasts.
Essentially, the project will help establish which projects the city can realistically undertake without ignoring needed maintenance and without taking on unacceptable debt levels – similar to the decisions individuals must make in their own financial planning processes.
“Most of us cannot afford to buy or do everything we want in our lives,” Scoble said.
Much of this kind of work is already being done; the money to support the project will be used to accelerate some of the different components, such as life-cycle analyses for buildings and complete condition assessments for existing buildings.
Corporate strategic services manager Maya Punger-Buick said while there will be some cost to the city, some of the project could be funded via a new grant recently announced by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which will provide $50 million to promote asset management and longer-term planning like what’s envisioned here.
“We’re hopeful we will be able to get funding to offset the majority of the costs associated with this project, but it’s too soon to say,” she said.
Council approved the plan at the March 13 standing committee of the whole meeting, although that decision will have to be ratified at a future council meeting.
The $300,000 to be spent in 2017 will include $120,000 to accelerate life-cycle planning, $80,000 to do comprehensive assessments on St. Albert Place and one other facility yet to be determined, and $100,000 for a review of the long-term costs associated with all city facilities and existing area structure plans.
Administration had recommended spending an additional $30,000 to study projected 10-year demographic trends and their impact on the need for facilities, but council chose to omit that project from the funding motion.
While this project is intended to bring some degree of certainty and accuracy to the city’s long-range budgeting figures, uncertainty will still remain.
Coun. Cathy Heron noted roughly one third of the city’s capital budget comes from provincial and federal grants, which are difficult to predict a decade ahead of time.
Likewise the political wishes of future councils will be unpredictable. There will be three municipal elections within the next decade, and those councils could opt to alter course in one way or another.
Coun. Sheena Hughes said while she supports having this work done to get more accurate costs for this council and for future council to work with, she expects the result of many of these assessments will actually result in higher projected costs in the long-term budget.
“This isn’t going to make the (deficit) number go down,” she said. “It’s probably going to bring it up tens of millions of dollars.”
Mayor Nolan Crouse was the only council member to vote against approving the funding, arguing this would be a better long-term plan for the next council to tackle rather than beginning with the tail end of this council.
“I just think we’re six months too early with this,” he said.