The recent City of Rossland newsletter about the Columbia Avenue and Washington Street infrastructure project should have been titled “Propagating the Myth.” The newsletter, which was not approved by council, contains many misleading statements.
The city has provided very little justification for undertaking this project and has done the bare minimum required advertising. The little information provided has had limited circulation or, like the newsletter, was provided at the last minute.
The newsletter suggests an assessment was done of the infrastructure beneath these two streets. The “assessment” essentially reviewed existing documents to find the date when infrastructure was installed. Just because a pipe is old doesn’t mean it needs to be replaced.
It was reported to council that the 100-year-old water line under Washington Street is actually in remarkably good shape. Most problems occur with the service lines to individual properties.
On the other hand, most of the main sewer line under Columbia Avenue was replaced in the 1980s. So why would these pipes be replaced?
Only limited physical assessment of the condition of the infrastructure has been done which mainly involved noting the condition of the pipes on the few occasions when some repairs were required. No written reports have been provided to council about the frequency of repairs, the cause of any damage, the condition of the pipes, or the costs involved.
The newsletter talks about the design charettes done to solicit ideas about how Columbia Avenue might look in the future. However, there are no current plans to undertake any “streetscaping” as part of this project. So why imply streetscaping is part of this project?
The newsletter suggests the Ministry of Transportation will pay for part of the costs of curbs and storm drainage. Council has not been informed of this possibility except through the newsletter. How’s that for communication from staff?
The newsletter says the engineering design will cover water and sewer connections up to properties. One of the main reasons for even considering this project was to be able to reroute roof drains from buildings out of the sanitary sewer and into the storm sewer system. There is nothing in the cost estimates to actually do the rerouting inside the buildings. Presumably that would be left to individual property owners. If property owners can’t afford to do the job, or don’t want to, why do the infrastructure work?
Council is proposing to borrow up to $6 million to pay for this project. That amount is based on rough estimates of the cost. But those estimates have recently increased.
The newsletter suggests that if grant applications are not successful, taxes might have to increase between $132 and $188 annually for 20 years. Information posted on the City website, but not circulated to residents, indicates the $188 amount would occur if only $4.5 million was borrowed and that the $132 amount could occur if there were personnel reductions as well.
The website information says borrowing $6 million over 15 years would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $250 annually. Those who don’t own a $250,000 home can calculate their potential tax using the value of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. For example, a $400,000 home would pay about an additional $400 in taxes annually for 15 years. That’s $6,000.
The newsletter suggests the arena roof project is an example of how taxpayers’ money will be responsibly utilized. An earlier alternative approval process resulted in the city having the authority to borrow $1.2 million to redo the roof. That project was completed using only grant money and reserves. There was no need to borrow any money.
However, because the authority to borrow was there, additional work was undertaken, without the approval of council, that resulted in an additional cost to taxpayers of $50,000 a year for five years. Is that an example of fiscal responsibility? Does that give any assurance the whole $6 million won’t be borrowed and spent on other projects?
The newsletter suggests that it’s prudent to spend all this money to avoid having to dig up brand-new pavement in the future. The cost of borrowing $6 million over 15 years is about $300,000 per year for interest alone. That amount of money will repair a lot of leaks and patch a lot of asphalt. Is this project really necessary?
Editor’s note: Laurie Charlton is a Rossland city councillor