Fort Erie’s $29.2M infrastructure gap not as scary as it seems, says consultant

The thought of closing an eight-figure infrastructure gap may make a Fort Erie taxpayer groan, but staff, councillors and consultants updating the Town’s asset management plan (AMP) say the burden won’t just be carried through property taxes.

“There are so many non-financial strategies to help you close that gap that won’t be put on the taxpayers,” said Jennifer Gross, senior project manager with GEI Consultants, as she presented the updated asset management plan to councillors at the July 8 council-in-committee meeting.

Municipalities in the province are required to have an AMP, which essentially inventories all the Town’s assets–from roads and water pipes, to vehicles and natural assets–and forecasts future needs for maintenance and replacement.

According to the study, the Town’s average annual infrastructure gap to meet proposed levels of service is $29.2 million. Even to simply maintain current service levels carries with it a gap of $12.4 million. And Gross cautioned against considering lower levels of service as she said it ends up just pushing costs down the road.

“Your gap doesn’t scare me, it doesn’t keep me up at night,” she said.

Closing that gap could include financial means like increasing property taxes, taking on debt or seeking out grants. But there are also non-financial ways to address the gap as well. Those include increasing efficiency, using new technologies or expanding lifespans of existing infrastructure.

Staff told councillors they would consider all options when considering ways to address the infrastructure gap.

Gross said the Town, like municipalities and households elsewhere, have been hit by the rising replacement costs of recent years.

“There’s been a large jump in replacement value of your assets since the 2019 plan,” she said.

Mayor Wayne Redekop also said some of it is also the result of a common practice among councils in the past to cut infrastructure spending to keep budget increases low. Other than roads, he said much of a municipality’s infrastructure isn’t easily visible to the average resident.

“The easiest way to try to come in with a reasonable budget was don’t spend money on your infrastructure,” he said. “Previous taxpayers didn’t have to pay the share of maintaining the infrastructure the current taxpayers are going to have to pay.”

Redekop cautioned his colleagues not to continue the trend and heap more costs on future generations.

However, at the same time, he said it can’t be up to property taxpayers alone.

“This is a problem municipal taxpayers are not going to resolve on their own,” he said, adding upper levels of government have far more resources at their disposal, and investing those resources into the roads and sewers of towns and cities will only benefit them in the end with a more prosperous province and country.

Other numbers that came out of the AMP include nearly 20 per cent of the Town’s assets being rated in “very poor” condition. On the bright side, just under half, or a shade over 47 per cent, of its assets are either in “good” or “very good” condition.

All told, the report pegs the Town’s overall value of its assets at $2.16 billion. Roads lead the way at just under $537 million, while stormwater ($401.5 million), wastewater ($392 million), and water ($371 million) round out the top four.

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