The City of Fort St. John is looking to get a handle on its infrastructure deficit and draft policies to properly pay for the maintenance and replacement of aging assets.
David Joy, general manager of corporate services, gave council an overview on Monday of the work being done to develop an asset management plan for the city. It will be key in helping the city forecast its needs and wants over the next 20 years through successive councils, he said.
“Everybody can relate to the fact that if we know we have to replace our car we’re going to start save money,” Joy said. “We might take out a loan, but we’re going to save as much as we can for a down payment.”
Asset sales and amortization are recorded in the city’s yearly financial statements, but that doesn’t give staff and council a true sense in how the assets are being managed, and what those assets may need, Joy said.
Current figures suggest the city’s capital spending needs are nearly $500 million alone for roads and related works, including storm and sewer mains, and sidewalks in the future. Other internal figures suggest the infrastructure deficit could be as high as $148 million in 2053.
An asset management plan will give staff and council more confident numbers about the state of civic infrastructure, and outline a proper schedule for funding maintenance and replacement, Joy said.
“I’ve seen plenty of headlines in newspapers from multiple municipalities, scary headlines about the infrastructure gap. This is something we can manage and we are managing quite well here in Fort St. John,” Joy said.
“It’s hard for me as an accountant to believe that in 2033 we’re going to be $148 million short, and that if we don’t (fund) that, that everything’s going to fall apart,” he added.
“The plan will provide documentation of how we’re going to replace assets, or how to maintain them, and what that might require money wise, effort wise, staffing wise.”
An asset management plan presents a “culture change” for the city, but is about being proactive in planning for future budgets, Joy said.
It will also help to protect key provincial grant money the city receives through the Peace River Agreement to fund its annual capital plan. There are 17 years left in that agreement, though that could change with a change of government, Joy noted. The plan will also help the city save money in the long-term, Joy said.
“The ultimate goal of asset management is to provide the right intervention on the right asset at the right time,” Joy said.
But, the developing the plan will be time-consuming. There are currently 14 city staff — accountants, engineers, planners, IT staff, and more — on a committee that’s analyzing city assets and drafting management plans. It’ll take three to five years to have all those plans completed.
Some municipalities have a full-time staff member dedicated to asset management, Joy said, though he said the committee should be able to take on the work. The committee will get a better sense of staffing and time needs as the plans are developed, he said.
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