Friday, July 12, 2024

Approach of Coming Infrastructure Nightmare Gaining Speed

Stephen Vance, Editor

I’m sometimes criticized for spending too much time ringing the infrastructure alarm bell, but I remain convinced that the ‘infrastructure nightmare’ I’ve often referred to is not only coming our way, it is already here, and the latest update on the state of Meaford’s bridge infrastructure is yet another example of that fact.

As council learned this week, the 80 bridges in this municipality are ageing to the point that some serious decisions have to be made, and some serious funding will need to be found to address some $30 million in required bridge rehabilitation and repair over the next ten years. Worse yet, some of those bridges have been deemed to be in need of urgent attention that will require nearly $6 million in funding, ideally in the next 12 months.

Even when looking 51 years into the future, and spreading the cost over all those decades to come, the bridge work needed to be carried out in this municipality averages out, in the best case scenario presented by the engineering consultants, to costing an average of $1.5 million per year, every year, for the next five decades. This will require a combination of debt financing (something this municipality has virtually avoided over the past few years) and property tax increases that could range from 3.7 percent to a whopping 17.6 percent per year. And let’s not forget, in recent years Meaford’s annual tax increases have plummeted to less than two percent (1.69% in 2014, 1.32% in 2015, and 1.94% last year), and many have still complained that those increases have been too high: some have demanded zero increases, while others have even suggested that Meaford’s property tax rates should be reduced.

$30 million is required over the next ten years for bridge repair and rehabilitation. For bridges alone we could need $3 million per year over the next decade.

But bridges aren’t the only pieces of our infrastructure that are continuing to degrade over time. It’s no secret that Meaford has more than its fair share of pot-hole filled roads. Two years ago council was told that Meaford will require a whopping $190 million to address road infrastructure needs over the next 50 years, and that the municipality needs to be spending $3 million per year on roads beginning yesterday, if we are to keep ahead of the ravages of use and natural deterioration of our road system.

Last year council learned that $54 million will be required for the municipal water and waste-water infrastructure over the next 25 years. That’s another $2 million per year. If you’re keeping tabs, for bridges, roads, and water and waste-water infrastructure, this municipality needs to be spending more than $8 million per year. Every year.

Call me crazy, but I call that a nightmare, but let’s not forget, Meaford is not alone. Virtually every municipality in the country is in the same boat. Infrastructure that was largely built five or six decades ago is ageing and if not addressed, will begin to crumble – actually, some of it is crumbling now.

A few years ago I told our readers about the ‘Canadian Infrastructure Report Card’, which was released jointly by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, the Canadian Public Works Association, the Canadian Construction Association, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and what was contained in that report was pretty scary.

The report found that, on average, about 30 percent of Canada’s municipal infrastructure ranked between ‘fair’ and ‘very poor’, and the replacement cost for that municipal infrastructure is a whopping $178 billion nationally.

Roads, bridges, pipes, and sewers, water treatment facilities. All of that infrastructure that we rarely stop to think about, all of those pieces of our infrastructure puzzle, most of which was built decades ago in the glory days, when governments upheld their unwritten agreement with the private sector that when the economy tanks, government steps in with infrastructure funding to help give the economy the cash injection it needs to once again thrive.

The difficulty though, is that in modern times that unwritten agreement has fallen away in favour of appeasing the ever-increasing cries for tax relief.

I understand the desire for lower property taxes, but to those most vocal in their demands for zero increases, or even tax reductions, I ask this – where is the money supposed to come from in order to address the most crucial, though admittedly not-so-sexy problem on our horizon?

Between newly found insurance savings, and future savings to be realized by modifications to winter road control services, Meaford’s treasurer announced nearly half a million dollars in annual savings for the coming years.

Some would suggest that money should be used to lower the tax rate, but I would argue that it should be pumped right into infrastructure rehabilitation, and the same should be done with any savings that can be found by the now underway service delivery review, but even that only takes a tiny bite out of the enormous infrastructure needs in the coming years.

Oh and, let’s not forget (I know some people hate me pointing this out) infrastructure spending creates jobs – good jobs, with good salaries. Call it what you want, but how do you think we built all this infrastructure to begin with all those decades ago? Infrastructure development in the ’30s and ’40s, and continuing on through the ’50s and ’60s helped dig this continent out of a depression, put millions to work, and helped spark the one of the most prosperous generations in history. Just a thought.

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