Council voted on Monday night to endorse both the the overall budget in the draft 2011-2015 financial plan, and the preliminary capital and special projects plan, but the process was rife with misunderstandings.
The overarching concern was the purpose of the capital and special projects plan that details the potential year-by-year costs for possible city projects, from infrastructure planning and renovations to trail building, weirs, and equipment replacement.
Responding to Coun. Andy Stradling’s concerns over large amounts in the plan, such as borrowing $215,000 this year for renovations to the museum adit – of $3.3 million in capital expenditures planned overall for 2011 – and complaints such as Coun. Laurie Charlton’s issue with $1.2 million in 2014 for a visitor center complex, Mayor Greg Granstrom called the plan “a wish list.”
It outlines all the city’s potential needs this year and for years to come, but does not force council’s hand on any particular spending decision. Coun. Jill Spearn clarified, “it’s not written in stone, it’s not even written in sand.” CAO Victor Kumar added, “we need the plan to proceed,” noting that if an item isn’t in the plan, it basically ceases to exist.
“We are not approving the funds, just the plan,” he said. “Money has to be in the plan so it can be called on later.”
Nevertheless, Stradling wanted more details to justify the large numbers, emphasizing that “the public deserves to know.”
While Kumar agreed in principle, he responded that plans for individual projects have already been issued in previous council packages, and details for longer term projects will not be known until the city acquires engineering reports and drawings on a project-by-project basis. In the meantime, staff have provided educated estimates to allow council to forecast our town’s long term needs.
The problem is analogous to that faced for the proposed infrastructure upgrades to Washington and Columbia. Although the city is likely to offset the costs of these upgrades – deemed necessary by public works on the basis of data from failures in other municipalities – through grants and reserves, the detailed cost of the project will not be known until roughly $500,000 is spent on an engineering report.
Until recently, the city has not budgeted sufficient money into a reserve fund to compensate for massive depreciation in city equipment and infrastructure. In addition to aging pipes, staff explained how many pieces of vital equipment are reaching the end of their useful life, making it fiscally prudent for the city to start putting funds aside now and to consider realistically the costs we may face up to 2015 and beyond.
All the plans discussed are available on the city’s website, www.rossland.ca.