Hoping for bike lanes, harbour pathway in Victoria? Wait two centuries

An asset management report made public this week reveals extent of immediate costs for City of Victoria

Unless Victoria city council can find a mountain of cash, its 30-year vision for the city could take nearly two-and-a-half centuries to bring to reality.

An asset management report made public this week reveals the city’s pedestrian, bicycle, harbour pathway and greenways master plans will cost at least $177 million and take between 75 years and 243 years to complete at current funding levels.

The report also lists the price tags of projects needing work in the next five years, including up to $58 million to rebuild Crystal Pool, $16.5 million for seismic upgrades at Fire Hall No. 1 and a $3-million to $7-million shortfall to refurbish the Bay Street Bridge.

“We need a fire hall and we need a Bay Street Bridge,” said Coun. Lisa Helps. “If we want to have a swimming pool and a walkable, bikeable city – which I absolutely want – and implement all of these master plans, we’re going to need to be really creative in how we go about those things.”

The report provides several funding options for council, who meet tonight to discuss the matter at a committee meeting.

Finance staff recommend Victoria property tax bills continue to rise at least 1.5 per cent until 2019 to help pay for the city’s deferred maintenance; that number doesn’t include another 16-19 per cent projected tax hike to pay for the Capital Region’s $783-million secondary sewage treatment project.

“it’s a bad time to be a Victoria property taxpayer, that’s for sure,” said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “The sewage treatment plant has eaten up any available (property) tax space for residents.”

Municipalities across B.C. should be focusing on maintaining crucial infrastructure and plan for amenity spending when the economic climate is healthier, Bateman said.

“Pipes in the ground aren’t sexy, but they are absolutely the lifeblood of any community,” he said, pointing to further cost-saving possibilities at the local level. “The provincial government has quit giving pay increases to its employees, municipalities need to do the same.”

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said the city’s master plans are intended to guide long-term council decision-making rather than create immediate change.

“The plans allows us to identify opportunities more quickly and take advantage when they’re in front of us,” she said. “But in times when the economy is struggling, we need to do things more cost-effectively.”

The 20-year capital budget is expected to be revised once council agrees on spending priorities, although a decision on Crystal Pool is dependent on a consultant’s report, due back to council next spring or summer.

Long-term funding solutions can be found by forming stronger partnerships with higher levels of government, and council will need to assess whether private sector partnerships are feasible, Helps said.

“This is a Canada-wide problem,” she said. “We’re basically confronting reality.”

The report also estimates longer-term visions, like the redevelopment of Centennial Square and other city assets, would require at least another $193 million.

View tonight’s governance and priorities agenda here.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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