The City of Port Alberni currently has an “infrastructure deficit,” says city CAO Tim Pley, meaning the city needs to replace more infrastructure than it can afford.
Pley brought a report to city council on Monday, Feb. 13 with a list of items that are not currently included in the city’s draft 2023-2027 financial plan, but need to be addressed in the coming years.
The city also introduced its draft budget on Monday, which proposes an eight percent tax increase in 2023 in order to provide current services and renew infrastructure. Part of the reason for this increase is inflation, as the city is seeing inflationary increases between six and eight percent over previous years, said Pley. The increase in taxation is also driven by new collective agreements and a return to pre-COVID levels of staffing and services.
The city has already made some changes to keep costs down in 2023, such as deferring the Quay to Quay pathway project to 2024.
But Pley said the city still has a number of infrastructure projects that need to be addressed. A million dollars a year annually “would go a long way” for the city to catch up on infrastructure projects, said Pley.
City-owned facilities, many of which were constructed in 1967 at the time of amalgamation, are aging, and many are in need of replacement and upgrades. The city works facility, in particular, needs a boiler replacement and roof replacement.
“We don’t know if we can get through another year with the boiler we have,” said Pley.
However, the city is hesitant to spend this money, since the city works facility is currently located in the tsunami inundation zone. A report from McGill and Associates in 2019 recommended moving the facility to a new location entirely, as the current facility will not be able to withstand seismic forces or inundation from a tsunami.
“From my personal perspective, that is our top priority today in facilities that need attention,” said Pley.
On top of the current infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced, Pley said the city does not have a lot of funding when it comes to enhanced services that will be needed as the city grows over the coming years.
“The community’s going to grow and it’s going to change,” he said. “There is no room in this budget to enhance services or to add a new service.”
Mayor Sharie Minions flagged the public works yard as a topic of discussion for the city’s next budget meeting, which was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 21. She said the city needs to look at how it can balance services and facilities in order to keep costs down.
“The reality is, we probably need to look at where we can make changes in order to free up funding,” said Minions. “That’s a difficult conversation to have, because everyone wants to see us properly fund our infrastructure but nobody wants to see services taken away.”
Finance manager Andrew McGifford says the city has already funded a facilities master plan that will look at what facilities the city owns and how to fund them.
“We have started the process to get an RFP out to do that through a contractor or consultant,” said McGifford.