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Getting hands on cash could be tricky

“I don’t think that money is going to get to the people who need it the most.”

– AMM PRESIDENT DOUG DOBROWOLSKI

Manitoba’s share of the federal budget’s allocated funding for infrastructure was basically “up for grabs” at the end of last week, as municipal leaders fear tight deadlines, their own cash shortages and uncertainty on how the money will be distributed mean many places are likely to miss out.

“I don’t think that money is going to get to the people who need it the most,” Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Doug Dobrowolski warned.

Last week the federal government allocated a two-year, $4 billion infrastructure stimulus fund aimed at countering an economic downturn and getting shovels in the ground on critical repairs and projects as quickly as possible. Manitoba’s share is expected to be roughly $260 million.

Dobrowolski said it remained unclear at week’s end how this cash will be distributed, and what say municipalities will have on that. “We don’t know if there’s going to be a municipal voice in that, or if it’s just going to be at the discretion of the province,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be application based, or population based.”

Many municipal leaders also don’t know if they will be able to come up with cash to match funds on short notice either. Many have already approved capital budgets for 2009 and would have to scramble to find money for whatever their required contribution needs to be, he said.

“Everyone needs the money. I can’t stress enough how it’s needed. But a lot of municipalities are mulling over whether they should debenture, or run a deficit (to produce a share of revenue to match the grant). And they not only have infrastructure challenges… they have everyday challenges to fund the municipality.”

The Canadian Federation of Municipalities, in a news release after the budget announcement, noted that “strict cost-sharing requirements would be a roadblock to getting work started on many worthwhile projects.”

Dobrowolski said municipalities are additionally concerned about the “fast-tracked” approach the feds intend to take to get this money doled out.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said the cash will be allocated to those projects which are ready to go and don’t require significant environmental assessments or engineering reports first.

While virtually every municipality knows what it needs to spend to fix or upgrade its infrastructure, Dobrowolski said, many projects for which they’ll want the cash do require time-consuming environmental assessments or engineering reports.

Another federal announcement last month allocated $82 million for infrastructure for smaller communities of populations less than 100,000. The deadline to apply is Feb. 23.

“It’s just too short a time frame,” Dobrowolski said.

While this winter’s cash-for-infrastructure announcements do show recognition of the critical need out there, what’s still needed is a sustained source of revenue for infrastructure renewal, he said.

“We need a streamlined process, not just to throw a bunch of money out there.”

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About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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