Cash woes hit main­te­nance of buses, parks bridges

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - PHIL TANK

De­spite hav­ing re­serve funds of $158 mil­lion, the City of Saska­toon is try­ing to ad­dress a $16.15-mil­lion an­nual fund­ing gap to main­tain buses, parks and bridges.

A re­port headed to the Nov. 14 meet­ing of coun­cil’s gover­nance and pri­or­i­ties com­mit­tee out­lines the need for more an­nual funds to main­tain buses and other in­fras­truc­ture.

Of the $16.1 mil­lion short­fall, the city es­ti­mates $6.2 mil­lion more a year is needed to main­tain its 152-bus Saska­toon Tran­sit fleet and its 26-bus Ac­cess Tran­sit fleet. An­other $4.15 mil­lion a year is needed to ad­e­quately re­pair bridges, pedes­trian walk­ways and over­passes and $5.8 mil­lion a year more is needed to main­tain parks and park ameni­ties.

The need for more money for bridges was iden­ti­fied a year ago and a ded­i­cated prop­erty tax levy was rec­om­mended to be­gin in 2018. How­ever, a tough bud­get year due to re­duced pro­vin­cial rev­enues post­poned that plan.

“The fund­ing plan pro­poses to de­lay fund­ing un­til 2019 due to the sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial pres­sures fac­ing the 2018 bud­get from the loss of pro­vin­cial rev­enues,” the re­port says.

In 2016, a ded­i­cated levy of 0.51 per cent for bridge re­pair was pro­posed for four years, start­ing next year. The re­port to be con­sid­ered Tues­day out­lines a pos­si­ble plan to in­crease fund­ing that would in­tro­duce a prop­erty tax levy av­er­ag­ing just above one per cent for eight years start­ing in 2019.

The parks fund­ing short­fall, which in­cludes main­te­nance of ameni­ties like park benches, pools and sports fields, was re­vealed in a city re­port last month. The city fun­nels money to re­serve funds to pay for re­pair and up­grades to in­fras­truc­ture.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion rec­om­mends the re­port be for­warded to city bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions at the end of the month just in case some funds become avail­able, so that re­plen­ish­ing the re­serve funds can start as soon as pos­si­ble. The pre­lim­i­nary prop­erty tax in­crease for 2018 sits at 4.96 per cent.

Un­der the eight-year plan, the re­serve fund to main­tain bridges would be funded suf­fi­ciently by 2022, while fund­ing for buses and parks would not reach suf­fi­cient lev­els un­til 2026.

The city in­tro­duced a ded­i­cated road re­pair levy in 2014 to di­rect more money to up­grad­ing the city ’s crum­bling streets, of­ten rated as the top pri­or­ity by res­i­dents.

A June city re­port showed re­serve funds over­all had climbed to a “healthy” $158 mil­lion in 2016, up from $141 mil­lion in 2015.

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