The opening ceremony of a bridge in Woolwich Township Monday – the product of joint federal-provincial-municipal funding – served as the focus for what has become a ubiquitous talking point: infrastructure spending. Such projects are expected to be the cornerstone of a stimulus package aimed at restarting a faltering economy.
Representatives from all levels of government converged on the Schuett Bridge outside Winterbourne Dec. 15 to highlight their respective governments’ contributions to infrastructure renewal projects in Waterloo Region. Upper tier officials were quick to assure municipal politicians that, despite hard times, more money is on its way in 2009.
“We constantly hear about the need for infrastructure funding. The $33 billion dollars that our government has announced [over] seven years – this is the largest infrastructure commitment that has been made since WWII – recognizes the needs there; by working in partnership with municipalities and provinces, we’re moving ahead to address those needs,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht in an interview following the ceremony.
The $33 billion will come as part of Building Canada, the federal government’s seven-year infrastructure renewal plan providing funding to municipalities across the country.
Municipalities will be able to apply for projects under different categories, so that those seeking money for recreation facilities projects will not compete against other municipalities petitioning for more pressing projects such as water system upgrades or bridge repairs.
In 2009, Ontario municipalities qualifying for the “community” component of Building Canada should see approximately $724 million, which will be funded by both provincial and federal governments. In total, of the $33 billion, Ontario will see approximately $6.2 billion.
Woolwich Township has applied under the communities component of Building Canada for repaving of Arthur, Brubacher and Second streets, said Woolwich chief administrative officer David Brenneman.
Wellesley Township has applied for road improvements including paving portions of Steffler Road and Broadway Street in Hawkesville. It’s an estimated $1 million project for 3.8 kilometres of new pavement.
Wellesley’s public works director, Will McLaughlin, is hoping to hear back within the next few months.
“What we’re looking for is, of course, sustainable funding. This is great; there’s no denying it. But what we and what all municipalities are looking for, that I’ve spoken to, is a constant sustainable funding so that we know where we’re going and it’s not like a lottery,” said McLaughlin.
“We’ve been very lucky … but it still would be easier to manage and easier to plan for if we had sustainable funding every year.”
Albrecht also highlighted several other sources for infrastructure funding in 2009: the government has already agreed to double the annual federal gasoline tax funding for 2009 to $2 billion.
Projections based on the population of the Waterloo Region translate into some $14 million through the gas tax fund, said Albrecht. Of that, Woolwich can expect to see approximately $591,000; and Wellesley $304,000.
Though the GST rebate initiative depends entirely on what municipalities spend, a rough estimate projects that Woolwich will receive $233,000 and Wellesley $120,000.
Albrecht noted that ailing infrastructure is a growing problem across the country and is confident that the federal-provincial initiatives should be ready to get things going early in the new year, helping address both infrastructural and economic needs. In the face of “trying economic times infrastructure investments are essential” to create jobs and create links between communities and regions to help generate jobs for the future, he said.
“There is a deficit in the aging of our infrastructure, that’s number one. But then what’s compounding it now is we’re saying ‘well, we need to get a stimulus package out to help our economy.’ my point is: if there are projects that have already had engineering and environmental studies done on them, and the municipality has the methods of getting ahead and actually getting the shovels in the ground, then I would be asking for levels of government that are partnering with them, provincial and federal, to say …. ‘let’s speed this up, let’s get the funding in February or March so they can actually get working at it this year instead of waiting until maybe the end of the year.’”
That said, the Conservative MP cautioned against throwing too much money too quickly into the construction sector.
“At the same time I think we need to remember we can’t just shovel tons of money and expect that every municipality is ready to move. And even if they were ready to move, will we have the wherewithal that construction companies are actually in a position to bid and get the work done? And will it be at a reasonable cost or will there be an escalation of prices simply because of the overwhelming demand? There has to be a common sense approach to this as we move forward, and our municipal partners understand that well.”
Albrecht was among a number of local politicians who took part in an official ceremony marking the completion of the Schuett Bridge near Winterbourne Dec. 15. Representatives from all levels of government converged on the Maryhill Road structure to celebrate a number of projects throughout the region which were funded by the Canada-Ontario Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF), including the completion of the bridge in Woolwich and the reconstruction of four roads in Wellesley Township (reconstruction and resurfacing of Deborah Glaister Line, Ament line, Maplewood Road and Herrgott Road).
Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn, taking part in the ceremony Monday, said he was thankful for the upper level funding. But he also stressed the importance of securing more sustainable funding models for the future.
“We’ve got to start looking that each of us becomes self-sufficient, and it can be done. It can be done in rural municipalities like ours by recognizing the wonderful agricultural land that we have.”
The Wellesley mayor has long advocated revamping the tax system so that agricultural land be taxed the same as industrial land, with the province – not the farmer – assuming the difference and allowing for more money to be pooled for infrastructure upgrades.
“That would help us rather than begging for the money …”