Infrastructure big issue for municipalities

September 30, 2019 7:41 am
Kevin Weedmark

Municipal leaders across southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba say that infrastructure funding is the issue they would like to see addressed in the current federal election.

Moosomin Mayor Larry Tomlinson says one issue is the lack of infrastructure grants for rural communities.

“We haven’t got a single grant since the Liberal government came in,” he said.

“For a community our size, we need those one-third, one-third, one-third grants to do major projects. The federal government pays a third, the province pays a third and we pay a third. We can take on a major project with that kind of funding, but we can’t do it on our own.

“Under the former government we got grants for the lagoon and the MCC Centre, but those grants have totally dried up now. We have an application in for one project and haven’t heard anything back.

“We rely on those grants for major projects because there’s no way we can do those projects on our own. It would be impossible without the matching grants.

“The grants seem to have dried up for this area, and that’s a real concern, because we have a water plant we’re going to need some help paying for.”

He said that, for the Moosomin area, pipeline approvals are a big issue. “That Energy East Pipeline would have been a big thing for Moosomin, and for the whole area. Pipelines are important to us in this area, and if we could get Energy East approved, or a pipeline like that, it would make a big difference for Moosomin. I don’t know why they wouldn’t want a pipeline that would get our oil to the east, and now with what’s happened in Saudi Arabia it’s only going to make it worse.”

He said he doesn’t think the federal parties are paying a lot of attention to municipal issues.

“I don’t think they think these local issues are the most important thing, but I hope the next government increases the infrastructure funding so projects can get done locally.

Clayton Canart is the Reeve of the RM of Wallace-Woodworth, which includes the LUD of Elkhorn and the rural area from the Saskatchewan border to east of Virden.

“The biggest thing is the gas tax,” he said. “It’s very important that they continue with that payment. They could keep the double payment that we got this year,” he said with a laugh. (With a surplus built up in the gas tax fund, municipalities received about double their normal gas tax funding this year, adding up to an extra $2.2 billion across the country.)

“That money was a help and they actually streamed it directly through to us,” said Canart.

“The biggest thing for us is we need a government that will support the industries in the area. Oil and gas and agriculture are what drives out local economy, and they both have their hurdles in front of them right now. That’s really what we need, is support for those industries. It’s hard to put into words how important those industries are in our area, the true economic spinoff they create.”

He said infrastructure grant funding is important as well.

“Hopefully they would continue to have programs like the Investing in Canada program so we can have money from the provincial and federal governments to help with infrastructure. Those are very important.

“With the cost of infrastructure and projects now, it becomes very difficult for municipalities to tackle those projects on their own.

“Hopefully they can keep those consistent and make sure they are giving the fair share to the rural municipalities and we’re all getting a fair chance at those dollars.”

He said municipalities have to work with the provincial and federal governments on infrastructure programs.

“No matter who is in power you need to work with them,” he said. “We need to work together on local infrastructure projects.

“We had the road and bridge program, they pulled it away, and now they’ve brought it back in a different form. That’s the only way you can afford to do infrastructure projects. We just rebuilt one bridge a couple of years ago, it was $1 million. How many of those can you afford to do in the municipality when they’re all aging at the same time. The infrastructure dollars are huge.”

Esterhazy Mayor Grant Forster says infrastructure funding is also a priority for their town.

“Whichever one gets elected I would hope they would continue with or increase the infrastructure funding that’s available to the small municipalities,” he says.

“It seems like the cities are getting the biggest chunk. We would like to see them maintain if not increase what is available to us smaller municipalities. It means a lot when we can get that money. Anybody who can come up with some extra funds for municipalities I think would be a great party to have in power. It just makes our lives that much easier to have that funding available.

“We’re waiting for funding for the water treatment plant. That’s part of the current infrastructure grant. We’re certainly hoping that it’s approved so we can do that. We’re talking a $30 million project, so that’s a pretty big dent in the coffers if we don’t have anyone coming across with $20 million to help us out. For us that’s huge.

“Of course the carbon tax is an issue as well. If you were to eliminate the carbon tax, that would save us a lot of money as well. It’s meant an across-the-board increase on the cost of everything. We’re seeing it already. If it was eliminated, we would certainly welcome that.

“With some of the green initiatives all the parties are tossing around, it would be nice if they included municipal governments on those. They’re talking about homeowners but for us, we’ve got a lot of infrastructure that could benefit from some green funding, to add wind power, to make the buildings more efficient. That helps the middle class that they say they’re trying to help, because the property taxes should go down.

“I don’t believe the parties are listening to municipalities right now. They’re looking at where the votes are and trying to do things with the biggest impact.

“For a municipality to get money, it’s not as visible as when people get money in their own pocket.”

Redvers Mayor Garry Jensen says he hopes the federal parties look into improving gas tax funding to municipalities.

“One thing that would be good is more funding to municipalities through the gas tax,” he said. “It would be nice if there was a broader range of projects you could use it for. We had tried to do some washrooms for the ball diamonds with it this year and it wasn’t allowed. It would be nice to have a little more freedom on how we can spend that.”

This year municipalities received about double the regular gas tax funding because money had built up in the gas tax fund.

“It was helpful to get that, and the next thing we’re hoping to use it for is a Reverse Osmosis system for the whole town. We have poor water here, and it’s been requested over the years that we put in an RO system. We have a small plant now that people can fill jugs up at our water treatment plant, but if you did the whole town’s water supply you can get away from water softeners and all that.

“It’s hard to say if the federal parties are paying attention to municipal issues,” he said. “I feel the west is usually left out. Our elections are usually over before our votes are counted out here. But I hope they’re listening to municipalities.”

Rocanville mayor Daryl Fingas said he agrees infrastructure is the big need when it comes to federal issues for municipalities.

“Continuing the infrastructure grants is the big thing,” he said. “That’s very important for towns. We got a wastewater grant a couple of years ago, $127,000 was the federal and provincial contribution, I believe the whole project totalled about $200,000.

“We were approved for it two years ago, and we submitted our claim for it, but we’re still working on it. I had to give Ralph Goodale’s office a little message two weeks ago. We haven’t received the money.

“When we first submitted they said there was a bunch of money left, and they asked ‘don’t you have any other wastewater projects’ and we said sure, and they said ‘put that together and send that in and we’ll okay it.’ We did all that and we submitted bills for the first part. We never did get our money and still haven’t. When we inquired about the second part they lost all the information we sent in. We’re still waiting on an approval.

“I called Ralph Goodale’s office and inquired and spoke to a lady about it and she said she would look into it and we haven’t heard back. I’m sure we’ll get it sorted out.

“Infrastructure is the big thing, replacing water lines. The water lines aren’t too expensive, it’s the pavement after, so it adds up quite a bit.

“We’ve got areas in town we know the piping’s not the greatest, so it would be good to do a block here and there.

“The other big thing that has helped us over the years is the federal gas tax. Hopefully that stays there. This year there was extra money. We used it for extra paving this year. Altogether we spent $200,000 on paving this year. Usually we just spend $100,000, so we redid a few streets.

“That money is good. We didn’t budget for it, but people were here doing the work, so we just threw in some more. It was kind of nice to get that extra money.

“Those two are big factors in our budget every year, the gas tax and the infrastructure grants.”

Fingas said he doesn’t believe the parties are paying a lot of attention to municipal issues.

“Not right now, I don’t think, but everything has just got under way for the election, so we will just have to wait and see if there’s something for municipalities.”