As I’ve been out speaking with residents, something I’ve heard quite a lot of is that people are upset that their road is getting ripped up for the Region to do work one year and then the City is coming along the next year to rip it up to do other work. “Why can’t they do all the work at the same time, Laura?!” people ask me.
While there are some services that very distinctly fall under the jurisdiction of either the Region or the City, roads is not one of them. There is a great deal of overlap (and, therefore, confusion) as to what is owned by the Region and what is owned by the City.
In most cases, if a road is a city road, then the infrastructure under the road is also the responsibility of the city. However, in the case of a regional road, the Region owns the road, but the City typically owns the watermain beneath the road.
So, we might see the Region come out one year and rebuild or resurface the road, and then the City comes out a year or two later to replace the watermain.
And that’s frustrating for residents.
Now, having worked in municipal government and for a civil engineering firm, I know that regional and city staff do speak to each other to try to coordinate these projects, so that they’re all out on your road at the same time.
But it doesn’t always work.
Sometimes, when they get together to try to coordinate work, one level of government has the money for a particular project and the other level of government won’t have the money until the following year or several years later. Or some other similar challenge with coordinating work.
However, an additional challenge – probably the most significant challenge – is when politicians make promises related to tax policy. We all know that blanket statements like zero percent tax increases or holding the line on taxes and the like are often ineffective and inefficient. We know we have an infrastructure deficit and we also know that municipalities and regional governments are mandated by the province to provide particular services at specific minimum levels, which makes these kinds of promises particularly challenging not only to stick to but also to implement in a way that doesn’t set us up for much greater expense in the future.
What I would like to see is city and regional staff getting together before and during their respective budgeting processes (maybe they already are) to plan out for 3, 5, and 10 years on what infrastructure projects need to be carried out when. Where one has a project in year one on the same road that the other has a project in year two, determine if and how they can be carried out in the same year.
Then, take these plans to the respective budget committees and explain why projects are scheduled as they are.
A sensible budget committee will consider this information from their knowledgeable and experienced staff when they are deciding if and where to make budget adjustments. Because – let’s be honest – as much as some people think this is all about lazy staff or poor planning or not caring about how tax dollars are spent, regional and city staff are taxpayers too. They don’t want to pay more property taxes if it can be avoided simply by planning better. They don’t want to inconvenience themselves, their neighbours, their friends, their community if it can be avoided simply by planning better.
As much as we need skilled and experienced staff working in all of our regional departments, we need politicians at the table who have an understanding of how these projects work and what happens in future if we continue to kick the can down the road.
It’s time to Reset the Region.