Municipal Infrastructure - Can We Afford What We Have?
(UPDATE: the MFOA presentation was great and I've drawn new conclusions. When I have time to write them I'll share them in a new post. Suffice it to say, municipalities definitely cannot afford to fix all their infrastructure without help - or new revenue sources)
I'm at the Association of Municipalities Ontario conference in Ottawa and during a break read this piece in the Citizen: Infrastructure high on agenda as municipal leaders gather in Ottawa. The lead sums up the problem all municipalities are facing:
With Ontario’s municipalities facing a huge infrastructure deficit pegged at $60 billion over the next decade and the province struggling with its own ugly deficit, it’s no surprise that roads, bridges, sewers and sidewalks — and how to maintain them — will be hot topics this week as municipal leaders gather for their annual convention.
The infrastructure deficit has been a long term problem and will require a long term solution. To freshen up on our own policy I turned to the Green Party's response to the AMO questionnaire during the 2011 election. Our statement on the infrastructure deficit was (emphasis mine):
Create a separate, new, predictable and permanent fund for municipal roads and bridges once the budget is balanced, and we will provide funding for municipalities to invest in safe roads and trails for active transportation.
That was a very responsible position in my mind. The province is facing record deficit levels; borrowing more money to create a fund for municipalities isn't in the cards. The provincial government should focus, and be obsessed, with getting the deficit under control (start with the $950m/yr "CEB"). As Ottawa's Mayor has noticed, it's cheap to borrow money right now so municipalities have access to credit. If they're forced to borrow it might turn their attention to whether or not what they are building (or repairing) is worth it.
On the topic of financial sustainability, one of Monday's AMO sessions is "Fiscal Sustainability of our Infrastructure – Can We Afford What We Have?". The MFOA and OMAA are presenting the results of a pilot study they've done and I'm hoping it has a twinge of what Charles Marohn of Strong Towns has been promoting for a long time: that we can't afford our cities the way we build them.
If we're building roads and low-densitity communities that don't recoup enough property taxes to fund their repair over generational timeframes, perhaps we're doing it wrong. Even if municipalities were absolved 100% of the existing infrastructure deficit our current habits would just create a new one within decades.
Back to the plenary.
PS: It's my first time in the Ottawa Convention Centre. Pretty snazzy.