Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Budget 2015-18: The Rationale Part I

After five full days of discussions, Council budget deliberations have come to a close (although there still can be tweaks until it's ultimately voted on).  I'd like to give an account of which projects I voted for and the rationale behind them.
First some overall thoughts on the budget:
I was very pleased that Council supported a wide range of low cost/high usership projects such as significant upgrades to the South Bear Creek and Muskoseepi parks, upgrades to paths and trails, support for the Community Mobility Plan and playgrounds.  I was also pleased that key roadway projects were included in the budget.  I am excited for our commitment to downtown and to see the positive spin-offs that our infrastructure investments will have.  I think the city's "thrive" factor will be increased immeasurably! 
I was disappointed in the overall level of spending though.  I believe that there were a number of projects and initiatives passed that are very high cost for a small number of users.  As a result, what I believe to be significant tax increases are planned for the next four years (between 4-5% increase each year meaning an average household will be paying $500-600 more per year by 2018). 
These increases could have been averted with more prudent spending decisions.  I made my budget decisions based on keeping tax increases at under 1% over the next four years and this indeed could have been attainable with the choices outlined below.
With growth in assessment alone, the City conservatively expects to collect an additional $2.5 million each year for the next four years.  This means that Council has an extra $2.5 million to spend each year without raising taxes.  Any tax increases we see are over and above that amount.
But without further ado, here is the rationale behind my decisions on the major projects:
68th Ave Twinning (from Poplar Drive to 108 St) - Supported
$10.8 million
Not much explanation needed here.  This was the number one project I heard was wanted from the community and I was pleased that we included it in the budget.  Construction on the bridge will start next year with the road twinning to be completed the year after.
92nd Street Twinning (from 116 Ave to 100 Ave) - Supported
$5.5 million
Another sorely needed project that I'm pleased went through. Construction will begin next Spring and be complete by the Fall.
112 Street Extension (over railway tracks) - Supported
$1 million
This roadway extension will provide an important linkage within Richmond Industrial Park.  It will allow traffic to cross between the north and south side of the park without having to go around to 108 or 116 St.  This project will be completed in 2018.
Road Rehab & Overlay - Supported
Over $32 million will be spent over the next four years to fix up existing roads.  I can already hear every suspension system in the region breathing a sigh of relief. 
Traffic Signals - Supported
$4 million
New traffic signals will be put at the following intersections:
  • 105 St. & 116 Ave (on bypass) - 2015 (contingent on provincial funding)
  • 92 St. & 108 Ave - 2015
  • 92 St. & 111 Ave - 2015
  • 110 St. & 104 Ave (behind Walmart) - 2016
  • 97 St. & 132 Ave - 2016
  • 68 Ave & CKC East (by St. Joes) - 2017
  • 97 St. & 116 Ave - 2017
  • 108 St. & 132 Ave - 2018
There were two additional signals that were passed which I did not support:
  • 110 St. & 107 Ave - 2016
  • 92 St. & 132 Ave - 2018
At $500,000 a piece, I didn't feel these were high enough priority intersections for me to support over this budget cycle.
Snow Plow/Sander - 2016 - Supported
It snows here. Our road network continues to expand. Need to keep up. Plain and simple.
Revolution Place Expansion
$50.5 million - Not supported
This was a biggie. I voted on this item consistent with my stance during the election. You can read the blog I wrote here.  I was relieved to see this item not funded after a 2-7 vote.
Parks, Trails, and Pathways
South Bear Creek upgrades  - Supported
$2.2 million
One of the biggest commitments I supported in this budget was significant upgrades to South Bear Creek Park.  This park is truly one of GP's gems and I felt we needed to really invest in its infrastructure.
Upgrades include:
  • Ball diamond renewal - 2015-18
  • Washrooms for beach volleyball - 2015
  • Campground upgrades - 2015
  • Sani-dump expansion and upgrade - 2015
  • Pavilion upgrade - 2016
  • BMX track upgrades - 2016
  • Additional ball diamond - 2016
  • Dugout rehab - 2017
In addition, $340,000 was added to refurbish the Wee Links pitch and putt course.  I did not support this amount as I would like to have seen a cost share with a private operator.
Muskoseepi Park Enhancements - Supported
$1.4 million
Highlights include:
  • Jr. Playground Replacement & Resurfacing - 2015
  • Infrastructure replacement & renewal (includes updating benches, garbage cans, and signage, much of which haven't been renewed since the park was opened many decades ago; new signage will include kilometre markers for trail users to measure distances) - 2015-18
  • Prowler equipment purchase (to groom tobogganing hills) - 2015
  • Sr. Playground Replacement & Resurfacing - 2018
In addition, I supported the replacement of all the old single lane yellow bridges found within the park.  One will be replaced each year.  Also, in 2017, a new pedestrian bridge will be built to link the trails at the new hospital to the Muskoseepi trails.
Another major investment that will affect park users are upgrades to the Reservoir.  Over the years, much sediment has accumulated here and has started to affect its drainage capabilities which could pose a flood risk if not addressed.  In 2016, we hope to dredge the Reservoir (contingent on some funds from Province/Feds). 
While the focus of this project is a matter of safety, there will be benefits to park users as odours coming from the water will be drastically reduced and the Reservoir will be more accessible to kayaks/canoes.
A number of investments are being made to Parks. 
We've invested in some additional staff and equipment to improve the quality of our turf throughout all our parks.  Having higher quality turf will greatly reduce the number of weeds that find a home in our city as well as improve residents enjoyment of parks.
I was pleased to support our skateboarding/BMX community with the  inclusion of $475,000 for a skateboard park expansion/addition in 2017.  I look forward to working with the GP Skateboard Park Association as we plan this project.
We will be investing $1.8 million over the next four years to finish replacing all the old wooden playground structures in the city.  A new playground will also be installed at Dave Barr in 2015.
A main focus of this Council was the implementation of our Community Mobility Plan.  A number of significant commitments came out of that plan.
  • Pathway/sidewalks - $13.5 million will be spent over the next four years to put in new and replace existing pedestrian pathways and sidewalks.
  • Sidewalk & Trails plow - to be purchased to improve clearing of pathways in winter
  • Benches, garbage cans, doggy poop bag dispensers - $200,000 will be spent to add these items to our pathways along main roads over next four years.
One project I was a big supporter of was to connect the Muskoseepi trails in the south to the trails the County built in the Dunes area.  Unfortunately, it was defeated 4-5.
Bus Stops & Shelter upgrades - Supported
These improvements would add some new shelters, upgrade shelters with heaters, and add pathways to bus stops to improve accessibility.
3 New Buses - Supported
$1.1 million
Contingent on provincial funding of $2.2 million.  If provincial funding is approved, these buses would facilitate additional bus routes being added.
Electronic Fare Collection System - Supported
Contingent on provincial funding of $297,000.

Head on over to Part II!

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