Victoria faced with tough financial decisions in 2014

Development boom continues to dominate the downtown core

Victoria council is set to make some tough financial choices in the coming year, while a development boom continues to dominate the downtown core.

The city’s capital budget for 2014 is estimated at $74.9 million, a distorted number from previous years due to $47 million being spent on the Johnson Street Bridge project. The budget will also need to be adjusted in early 2014 to reflect carryover amounts from the past year.

In September, an infrastructure assessment revealed three city-owned assets – Crystal Pool, Fire Hall No. 1 and the Bay Street Bridge – are in desperate need of upgrading.

Mayor Dean Fortin said the city will spend $2 million to $3 million to make necessary upgrades to keep Crystal Pool running for at least the next five years, and he’ll look to regional and provincial partners to help fund larger infrastructure projects.

“There’s a great opportunity to recognize the Bay Street bridge is a regional bridge, much like the Craigflower bridge that was paid partially by a gas tax fund,” Fortin said.

Councillors Ben Isitt, Shellie Gudgeon and Lisa Helps plan to put forward a motion in the new year to redirect some conventional infrastructure spending to “active” infrastructure projects, Isitt said.

“That would allow us to move forward more quickly to make improvements for pedestrian and cyclists,” he said.

The city has undergone some key changes of the guard in 2013 with the hiring of new Victoria police Chief Const. Frank Elsner, several rookie members of the Victoria-Esquimalt police board and new city manager Jason Johnson.

Fortin said the city has made progress in dealing with homelessness and affordable housing, and he’s optimistic for a long-awaited policing framework agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt. He also pointed to the success of the kitchen scraps program and a revival in economic development as high points moving into the new year.

“We’ve got more cranes up now than the building boom of 2006. That bodes well for our future,” he said.

The pending development of more than 200,000 square feet of residential and commercial space around the B.C. legislature is also big news, Fortin said. The province plans to sell several parcels of land in James Bay, and lease back office space for government ministries.

“It’s a physical expression of the commitment of this provincial government to this provincial capital, and I know some people have been questioning that. But they’re going to lead the next development of commercial office space in this city,” Fortin said.

The city also plans to spend $12 million to maintain and replace aging underground pipes across the city, as part of its 20-year capital plan that extends to 2032.

Council next meets for a governance and priorities meeting Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. All relevant bylaws for the 2014 budget must be passed before May 15.