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Potholes, pipes and bridges: we need help, say councillors

By Ray Martin
For the Post

Municipalities across the country want to fix potholes, corroding pipes and crumbling bridges, but before they tackle that job, they need to build a new relationship with Ottawa.

At last week’s meeting of all councils — hosted by the Region of Waterloo — Ward 2 Coun. and former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Berry Vrbanovic updated the seven municipal councils on the organization’s efforts.

“The (federal) government is ready to work with municipalities,” he said. “The funding is in place for the 2014 construction season, but we need to reach a new agreement if we are going to address the infrastructure deficit.”

Following the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, when much of today’s infrastructure was built, municipal governments were handed the responsibility of building, repairing, and maintaining most of Canada’s core infrastructure without a reasonable, reliable source of funding.

Vrbanovic said that as a result of the downloading, the municipalities’ responsibility for infrastructure has grown from 34 per cent in the 1960s to more than 60 per cent today.

According to the FCM, congestion on Canada’s roads is costing $10 billion in lost productivity each year. Vrbanovic said that more than half of all municipal roads need immediate repair, and one out of every four wastewater treatment plants require major upgrades to meet new federal wastewater regulations.

The state of aging infrastructure is judged to be in poor to fair condition, according to experts. To either repair or replace it, municipalities currently rely on an out-of-date property-tax system, Vrbanovic said.

Up until a few years ago, the federal government would have no part in discussions on how to pay for the crumbling infrastructure, he said.

During the last few years, the federal government has worked with municipal, provincial and territorial governments to start repairing some of the neglected infrastructure. The current agreement comes to an end in 2014.

Vrbanovic said FCM is proposing a long-term funding solution to help address the problem. The plan takes a three-prong approach, using funding provided through gas taxes, Build Canada funding and a new Core Economic Infrastructure Fund, which would be linked to municipal asset management plans to tackle the deficit.

Using a three-prong approach and with all three levels of government working together, Vrbanovic said communities would get the “secure, predictable, reliable funding they need.”

“We think everyone sees this as the next logical step,” he said.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has also been pushing stabilized funding from the upper levels of government to address the infrastructure deficit.

Most recently, he has suggested municipalities receive one per cent of  personal income tax collected.

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