Bad decisions mean higher costs
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It was reported in this newspaper on Jan. 4 the Brandon Downtown Development Corporation has requested the city increase the corporation’s annual funding to $545,000 in 2023 from $400,000 in 2022.
This past Tuesday, it was reported the Brandon Police Service has requested a budget increase of almost five per cent. That would bring its annual budget to approximately $19.6 million.
On Wednesday, it was reported the latest design of the proposed lift station in the southwest corner of the city could cost $35 million — $15 million more than was projected last year, and $5 million more than estimated just three months ago. The same report revealed that development charges received by the city will come nowhere close to paying for the cost of the new lift station.
The report also told us that “$15 million to $20 million is needed in transportation upgrades, $5 million to $10 million in water upgrades and $30 million to $40 million in drainage upgrades. In the long term, the city will need an additional $20 million to $30 million in transportation upgrades and $10 million to $20 million in wastewater upgrades. That’s approximately $150 million in needed upgrades in total.”
Then on Thursday, it was reported a public survey regarding the proposed outdoor aquatics complex found 84 per cent of respondents believed $9 would be a fair price to access the facility, and that almost 45 per cent felt it should be located south of the Assiniboine River and west of 18th Street.
The report quoted Ian Frank of the MNP accounting firm as saying, “These facilities are not money makers, they’re quality of life makers.” In other words, the facility would incur losses, year after year, that would have to be funded through the city budget. We still don’t know what the facility would cost, nor how it would be paid for.
That’s just a snapshot of some of the critical issues that our newly elected mayor and city council must grapple with over the coming weeks. The decisions they make will likely have consequences that extend years, even decades, into the future.
How confident are you that they will make the right choices? We have a rookie mayor, a rookie city manager, and four of our 10 city councillors are rookies. Nobody at the council table, nor in city administration, has any experience or training in making decisions that are measured in the tens of millions of dollars.
Beyond that, we have a wastewater project that is either rapidly increasing in cost, or the cost was vastly underestimated when the project was first approved. Would any of us be surprised if, by the time it is actually built, it ends up costing far more than the current $35 million estimate?
Then there is the fact that we were told last fall a large portion of the cost of the lift station would be paid through development charges. On Sept. 12, the city posted an FAQ document on the “public notices” page of its website that said this: “The city is forecasting to receive $4.1 million in wastewater collection development charges revenue over the next 10 years, which could be used to help pay for the borrowing costs of the wastewater project.”
Wednesday’s report revealed there is just $415,000 in the wastewater reserve and contains this passage: “For councillors wondering why the balance of the city’s development charges reserves doesn’t match initial projections, [the city’s director of planning and building, Ryan] Nickel said more conservative projections should have been made when the system was established.”
That’s just awesome. They underestimated the project cost and overestimated the revenues.
All of that is concerning, but my greatest concern is the attitude expressed by some city councillors and staff that, because of bad decisions made by previous councils — that were never adequately costed, communicated or explained to the public at the time — the current council is compelled to borrow and spend tens of millions of dollars in order to implement those bad decisions.
That’s hogwash. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. You don’t fix bad decisions by making even more bad decisions. And yet, here we are.
We are about to borrow tens of millions of dollars to pay for infrastructure projects that will very likely cost more than estimated, and the vast majority of citizens will derive no benefit from those projects. Even worse, all that new debt will likely prevent necessary infrastructure repairs from happening.
In other words, after spending tens of millions to subsidize “mcmansions” in the southwest corner of the city, we won’t have the money to pay for crumbling streets, sewers and sidewalks in the rest of the city. Instead of getting the indoor aquatic facility we really want, we will be stuck with the Sportsplex for years to come.
If that’s not disheartening enough, the proposed city budget — released yesterday afternoon — calls for property taxes to be increased. That’s on top of likely water rate increases. At a time when inflation and affordability are huge issues across Canada, life is about to become less affordable for Brandonites.
Fasten your seatbelts and hide your wallets. We’re in for a bumpy ride.