EIRP – a success that needs to continue

One of the best things that this sitting of Thunder Bay City Council did was address the major issue of under investment into the city’s infrastructure. They achieved this with the addition of a 1.5% annual tax increase directly solely at city infrastructure. With the election on October 27th, 2014 there is still a chance that a plan like this could be scrapped to gain political praise with people living in the community. For years the conditions of the city’s roads have been noted as the #1 concern for residents but a tax increase is always a hot button election issue. As a citizen I would like to throw my support behind this particular plan and see council lay out the plan for the future.

Thunder Bay has a major problem when it comes to the state of our infrastructure. As of 2009 there was a roughly 300 million dollar backlog in sewer repair, replacement and more than 50% of the 2000 km of roadways in Thunder Bay was below par(Province average is 64% ok). Years of underinvestment has left the city with an annual 15 million dollar infrastructure deficit. Even with this new tax dedicated to our roads, sewers, lights and parks we will still need years to catch up. 3 years of EIRP increases have allowed the city to invest and additional $7 million dollars that wasn’t being invested previously. Still that is less than 50% of the annual deficit facing our engineering department and roads division. Much more investment is necessary when you account for the fact that we need to be spending more than that $15 million to attain the status quo.

Continuing this program is the only viable way to dent the backlog of infrastructure projects that require our attention. I believe that it should be continued indefinitely at the annual rate of 1.5% unless there is significant tax base growth that the city can cover that increase based on new income. Continuing the program until 2017 will see the city spending the correct amount annually on its infrastructure. But spending to the status quo can’t be acceptable going forward; we will need to beyond the $15 million milestone to prevent our infrastructure from decaying. I believe that when the city hits $18 million annually (2019-2020) that we need to change the direction of this funding in terms of how it is spent and on what. Changing the focus from quantity to quality will need to start in the way the city tender’s its projects.

The city’s tendering process is a point system that gives contractors points for a certain things like cost, locality and more. The #1 in the point system is the cost to the city for the work that will be done. While continuing to focus on best cost for the taxpayer I feel that we need to focus on quality into the future. Initial focus on eliminating the deficit and then investing significantly into quality materials, consultations and effective work schedules. This can only be achieved by having the city add in quality of the workmanship to its tender process, consolation with the public and have an effective timeline for work completion. Providing these additions to the point system will force the contractors in Thunder Bay to achieve more for the public dollar. Finishing more complete projects like Algoma St. and the scenic route projects will make Thunder Bay a better place to live.

Why do something twice when you can get it done properly the first time? If we spend a little more money and expect better quality out of the construction companies then these projects wont fall apart on us nearly as quickly. It will easily cost us in the long run to redo work that could have been done properly in the first place. I would also like to see better consultations with the public in terms of more effective information passing, working with businesses around construction zones and effective detouring. Thunder Bay drivers consistently complain of being detoured into another construction zone. Having the companies work together to make this less of a headache should be important. I know that everyone in the city hates when a project is ¾ completed for months. All it needs is the top layer of asphalt but the company is gone with no one in sight for weeks. If the city were to remove this it would benefit them, the company and the citizens.

When the city finally hits that 18 million dollar plateau I would like to see them divest from only investing in the city’s infrastructure. Open up the money to help fund projects from institutions like Lakehead University, Confederation college and the Regional Health Sciences center. Helping Lakehead build new spaces, redesign the exterior of their buildings or Confederation College build new residences are just some of the potential projects. A post secondary student helps bring in $15,000 to the local economy (from out of town) making these investment have a huge social/economic return. These investments in their infrastructure will help to make them more viable, attractive and bring wealth into the community. Keeping the overall tax increase at 1.5% but then splitting the tax; to 0.75% city and 0.75% outside investment would provide a cash infusion missing from Thunder Bay. These increases will allow the city to keep up with inflation but also allow for spending outside of their traditional areas. Investing in the health sector, post-secondary sector or social projects in the city will prove to be a valuable investment for the future.

In order to try and keep these increase from making the city tax base bear a huge burden the city should look at making effective cuts. Looking for a 2% annual cut to the operating budget would allow the city to provide a tax break to the citizens but also invest properly to the city. As noted in other blog posts I talked about how the city could save money and assets it should look to drop in order to reduce costs. Service cuts are never nice things to deal with but with a stagnant population and a missing industrial based we cant continue to pretend we are what we were in 1970. Things like Thunder Bay Transit, infrastructure and emergency services should be the only areas of the city that are immune from tax cuts. See https://thenotsonews.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/police-cut/?preview=true&preview_id=1126&preview_nonce=1ae93fc9fe and https://thenotsonews.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/the-firefighter-dilemma/?preview=true&preview_id=998&preview_nonce=8af3dc764b are just potential options for emergency services savings.

In the end I want to see the EIRP program continue with the next iteration of council. We need to be investing in our infrastructure and no politician going after some ‘easy votes’ should be able to cancel the program when it is so desperately needed. Fix our infrastructure first and then some investment into outside infrastructure projects that will have a positive effect on all of the community. Investing in infrastructure if one of the best returns on your investment. It has been said that for every $1 invested you get a $1.16 return to the local GDP of an area. Lets continue the good work we have done so far and fix the issues facing Thunder Bay.

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Time to divest assets

Thunder Bay is a city that has been in decline for years. Youth and vision have been leaving the community in boatloads, money has walked from city coffers. All of this has happened while the city has pretended that it can continue to offer the same level of services without massive increases to taxes. In reality the situation is much different, years of underspending has left the city in a position where its assets are crumbling. Arenas that are 50 years old and getting close to their end of life, sewers well past their breaking point and buildings falling apart. The city needs to desperately look at the things it owns and is involved in. We cannot pretend that we are a city with a booming industrial sector, population growth and money to burn. Below are the items I believe that the city should look at getting rid of and a short reason as to why.

Chippewa Park – The city has a very limited vision for this area. There are so much potential for the area in terms of housing, activities and there isn’t the money. The roads here are terrible, the zoo is a money loser and we have invested considerable amounts into the RV park that doesn’t provide the proper return. The pavilion needs to be turned into a year round facilities and promoted better then the city has the ability to. Truthfully I believe that the city could sell this to Fort William First Nation. I believe they would have more of a vision for the future for this land.

Trowbridge Campground: This campground is a generally well run facility that is attractive to city residents and to travelers. The issue comes when the city cannot provide an adequate service to people who are coming into the park past 8 pm. The city leaves it self open to thousands in losses with people coming in late and being turned away or staying and then running. This would be great to sell to a 3rd party operator and get the maintenance and staffing costs off the books. This is a facility that is close to breaking even and with a 3rd party ownership could be a money maker.

Daycares: This is one of the services that the city provides where I agree at one time it was necessary but isn’t anymore. The Daycare portion of the city loses thousands of dollars daily and will continue to do so for years to come unless something drastic changes. We should not be in this business anymore, it is not a quality of life issue to eliminate this money losing service. I believe that we should continue to own the buildings in which they are housed out of and open these spaces to private business. We cannot afford to keep subsidizing this service, it is not fair to the workers who have random hours and the taxpayers. With the introduction of all day daycare into the province and increased competition. We cannot and should not be competing.

Conservatory: This was a hot button issue for the city. It was a building put together for the 100th birthday of Canada and has a lot of great attributes. This issue has come when the building has aged with limited investment and seen annual loses rise to $600,000 a year. This building will not succeed under the City of Thunder Bay and we cannot afford to invest millions into a new building with limited use. There is a group that is attempting to save the conservatory and make it a more effective overall attraction for Thunder Bay. I think the city should gift this building to that group and have them take it off of the city’s hands. It was a beautiful building but with the repairs necessary and tax issues facing Thunder Bay we can’t keep everything.

Sporting Venues The city has an issue with its sporting venues that is going to require massive amounts of money to fix. The city’s venues were designed too small, too spread out and are coming to the point in their life where they need massive investment or replacement. Grandview arena and Stanley arena are both facilities that are in need of replacement because they don’t meet the need of the users present and future. They cost the city annually $1 million dollars in losses alone a major detractor for the parks division. They city needs to replace these with second sheets of ice at other city facilities and they would continue to lose money but reduce the amount substantially. The city also needs to consider a long term plan for the Canada Games Complex and the Tbaytel Stadium. The Canada Games complex is a important part of a potentially sports complex in this area but it needs a plan. It needs investment to keep it relevant and bring down the annual costs to the city. Tbaytel stadium while operated by a 3rd party is going to need investment to replace the building here soon. We need to decide if we are willing to invest millions into a facility that draws 900-1,300 people a night for 20-30 days every summer. We need to make this facility more then baseball.

The City of Thunder Bay has 2 billion dollars worth of infrastructure under its belt and it needs to lessen the load. That total is almost 7 years worth of operating and annual budgets. We aren’t the same city as when we built many of these pieces of infrastructure. Its time to lessen the load on taxpayers and provide a leaner more effective municipal government. Truthfully, any money saved by reducing these costs from the city’s general costs should be shifted into 1) Infrastructure renewal, 2) Transit and 3) Taxpayers rate savings. These choices are going to be tough and going to be hard but all the important decisions are.