Nanaimo city councillors will have a say in potentially re-prioritizing capital projects before the next financial plan is finalized.
The City of Nanaimo is in the midst of its budgeting process and at a special finance and audit committee meeting Monday, staff presented details of $314 million in capital projects in the 2021-25 draft financial plan.
There are more than $72 million in water infrastructure projects planned for the next five years, including a $19.8-million mid-town water supply upgrade scheduled for 2021-23. The city wants to fast-track the Bowen Road-area project, said director of engineering Poul Rosen, after a water main break this past spring drained three of the city’s 10 reservoirs and cost $250,000 in damage and repair costs.
“It’s such a high-consequence,” Rosen said. “When you have a pipe that large of that pressure, it can drain reservoirs really fast and major users can be out for quite a substantial period of time.”
The five-year financial plan also includes $71 million in transportation infrastructure work, notably Metral Drive, Terminal Avenue from Esplanade to the Pearson Bridge, and the ‘mid-town gateway,’ formerly called the Boxwood connector.
“We’ve rebranded it … because it’s a lot more than just a road project there,” said Rosen, saying the city was nominated for an award for its brownfield recovery work there and adding that the project is now in the detailed design phase.
“It will enhance mobility throughout this little node here, both for vehicles and for active transportation, it’s going to provide the northern end of the off-Bowen bikeway, it’ll, improve access into Beban Park as well as [present] some substantial development opportunities right in that gateway to Nanaimo,” he said.
Facilities projects in the capital plan will total $34.5 million, with $14.4 million going to the remaining work on Fire Station No. 1. Nanaimo Search and Rescue station redevelopment is planned for 2022 and roof repairs at the Beban Park complex will cost $2.2 million in 2024.
The biggest parks and rec project in the financial plan is waterfront walkway work. The Harewood Centennial Park artificial turf field is contingent on grant funding, but if it happens, the bulk of the work will take place in 2022.
Some capital projects planned for 2021 include animal shelter improvements, Port Theatre window replacement and a Beban Park electrical substation upgrade. The city is also planning to replace a backhoe and two dump trucks next year.
City councillors expressed some interest in accelerating certain projects; among those mentioned were active transportation improvements including a bike lane from Pine Street to downtown and Wakesiah Avenue corridor improvements including utility replacement, road rehabilitation and bike lanes.
Coun. Tyler Brown said linking the downtown, university area and hospital district is “such a natural location for a minimum grid” of active transportation infrastructure as it aligns with transit routes and connects residential areas with major employers.
“Those are the type of conversations I think are really interesting in terms of taking it to the next level and being more tactical with that type of investment,” he said.
Bill Sims, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works, said that the city’s active transportation plan will provide “much better granularity” on various projects, when they’re needed and where they might fit as priorities, but chief administrative officer Jake Rudolph said staff will be able to provide some active transportation decision points for councillors in time for a budgeting meeting Friday, Dec. 4.
Also at this past Monday’s meeting, councillors voted to use $1.4 million from their general financial stability reserve to reduce property taxes over the next three years. Councillors Jim Turley, Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe were opposed, as they preferred an option of reducing taxes using $1.4 million from the strategic initiatives reserve, but Coun. Don Bonner said he thinks a “worldwide pandemic” is good reason to draw down the financial stability reserve and other councillors also preferred the flexibility of having more money for strategic initiatives.
“The upside of … having more money in our strategic initiatives reserve is it does give us more leeway to engage in projects that we have identified as priorities in the community and that the community is expecting us to deliver on,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “I think we’ve been given an opportunity with the money that we’ve been provided from the province to make good on those commitments.”
The decision on using the reserve money to lower property taxes reduced the 2021 projected tax increase from 3.3 per cent to 3.0 per cent.
There is one more special finance and audit meeting Friday, Dec. 4, before an e-town hall focused on the 2021-25 financial plan on Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. For information about viewing the e-town hall or submitting questions about the budget, click here.