“It’s vital to their very existence.”
– R. M. OF TACHE REEVE WILLIAM DANYLCHUK ON THE NEED FOR WATER INFRASTRUCTURE IN RURAL COMMUNI TI ES
Leaders of Manitoba municipalities are gathered at their annual convention this week in Brandon to debate a host of issues, from health care to economic development – plus how to pay for it all and foot the bill to upgrade critical infrastructure too.
Fiscal matters are the focus of municipal minds these days as roads deteriorate and water and sewer plants run beyond capacity – and there’s no cash to fix them.
Municipalities’ need for sustainable alternative revenue sources remains the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ main issue, said AMM president Doug Dobrowolski, who was in Ottawa last week attending a national municipal convention.
Communities are desperate for cash, as evidenced by the fivefold oversubscription to the Building Canada Fund by those seeking grant assistance for infrastructure projects this year, said Dobrowolski. Municipalities are glad for the funds that did flow from that program, but unfortunately, with grant programs such as these, some ended up winners, and others were losers, he said.
A better approach is to find sustainable revenue streams for municipalities, Dobrowolski said, adding that AMM’s “ask” last year for one per cent of provincial sales tax is now part of a larger
strategy with more components. The AMM will discuss that strategy when it meets with Manitoba’s new premier and cabinet ministers this week.
Virtually every municipality has need for more cash to fix aging infrastructure.
Neepawa, for example, needs to install water lines and upgrade its water treatment plant to the tune of around $7 million. It did not receive funding through the Building Canada fund.
“They have many more projects that they have dollars for,” said Neepawa Mayor Bob Durston.
But Neepawa can’t pay for this alone either, he said.
Its council is readying to borrow its share of the project, but the council does feel it’s like taking out a huge mortgage in times such as these, Durston said.
“We’re approaching the upper limits of where it’s comfortable,” he said. But it’s not a matter of choice either, he continues. Neepawa will soon reach a point where their water quality is compromised, and “if we don’t do this, and don’t have the water in place, nothing else matters.”
R. M. of Tache Reeve William Danlychuk’s municipality was relieved to learn this spring the balance of funding it needs for its $7.3-million water system upgrade will flow through the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure program.
The village of Lorette, which resides within the R. M., has been under a boil water advisory since 2005.
Nothing less than a rural community’s survival hangs in the balance when water is in question, Danlychuk said. “It’s vital to their very existence,” he said.
One resolution before the AMM this week, coming from the R. M. of Argyle, reflects that fundamental concern. Baldur is now dealing with multiple waterline breaks every year as lines installed in the 1960s start to deteriorate, said Argyle Councillor Mark Collins. It too was turned down by the Building Canada Fund for funding to fix those lines, even as several recreational projects around Manitoba did receive cash.
Argyle is bringing a proposal before the AMM this week calling for critical infrastructure such as water, sewer and transportation to take first priority when grants are being allocated, Collins said. [email protected]