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Infrastructure deficit priority for city

It’s not cheap running a community.

Much of the City of Vernon’s focus during 2014 will be on strategic asset management, and specifically ensuring sidewalks, roads, sewer pipes and public buildings are maintained and replaced as required.

“Most communities have aging infrastructure,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“We have to finalize a sustainable program to manage them.”

It’s believed Vernon’s infrastructure deficit is about $80 million, and while some of that will be paid through taxes, other options are being considered.

“We can be more modest in the way we design roads and our sewer infrastructure,” said Sawatzky.

“If we bring a road down in size by one-third, that reduces maintenance costs.”

The lifespan of all city assets — roads, underground pipes, sidewalks, buildings, etc. — is 47 years and the average remaining life is 51 per cent.

The $80 million deficit refers to infrastructure that is past its life expectancy, and if every asset had to be replaced, the price tag is $800 million.

About $17 million a year is needed for renewal, including $8.4 million for roads and $4.5 million for the sewer system.

Consultant Michael Trickey recently told council there is a need to look at the specific function of a road and to not over-design.

“How many lanes do there have to be? How many shoulders? Does there have to be a bike path?” he said, adding that maintenance factors to consider are landscaping, snow storage and street lighting.

Besides its own infrastructure, the city will be focused on Greater Vernon’s master water plan. Upgrading the water utility could cost $100 million.

Another priority for Vernon council will be trying to bolster the economy.

However, Sawatzky isn’t convinced Vernon is destined to become the centre of large manufacturers and it must consider why people come here.

“Our strengths are an attractive climate, our lifestyle and arts and culture,” he said.

“We have to make ourselves as attractive as we can to people who can live where they want such as independent small businesspeople.”

The new year will also see the city become responsible for most parks in Vernon. Previously, they had been under the Regional District of North Okanagan.

“There should be a net savings for city taxpayers,” said Sawatzky.

“With one less layer of administration, we can be more responsive to (public) needs.”

In terms of governance, a citizens’ group has asked the four Greater Vernon jurisdictions to pursue a study looking into the feasibility of amalgamation.

Sawatzky won’t speculate on whether his council will support the concept.

“Personally, I believe it’s worthwhile asking the provincial government for a study but I am only one voice on council,” he said.

“Without information, citizens can’t make an informed vote if it comes to that.”

But Sawatzky points out that Vernon cannot go it alone when it comes to amalgamation.

“There can only be a study funded by the province if there are willing partners,” he said of Coldstream and Areas B and C.

One question that Sawatzky will likely be asked frequently during 2014 is whether he will seek a second term in office during November’s election.

“My plan is to discuss it with my family and make a decision as the year moves on,” he said, adding that he will consider a number of factors.

“You have to consider age, health and family. It’s a very time consuming position. But it’s very rewarding to see the co-operative effort to build a community and to be part of it.

 

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