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Greater Sudbury 2014 capital budget all about roads - looking for a budget that meets the needs and priorities of our community

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Ramsey Lake, a source of drinking water for 60,000 residents (photo credit:  Naomi Grant)
Ramsey Lake, a source of drinking water for 60,000 residents (photo credit: Naomi Grant)

How is your tax money being spent?  Now is a good time to find out, with the City’s capital budget overview for 2014 now on-line (part of the budget process, expected to be complete in January).

There’s a lot to read in this overview, but what you won’t find is any analysis of how well the budget supports our priorities as a community.   This omission is perhaps an answer in itself. 

As a City of Lakes, being able to enjoy our many lakes and rivers is a big priority for residents.  Increases in blue-green algae blooms and other problems has put protecting water quality top of mind.  This year, Council unanimously supported a motion to get watershed studies done, so that smart decisions can be made about our water.  But you won’t find a corresponding change in the budget.  Annual funding remains at $35,000.  At that rate, it would take over 50 years to complete the remaining 16 watershed studies identified as necessary in the last Stormwater Background study

As in previous years, the biggest chunk of money goes to roads, taking up 40.5% of the capital budget.  There’s no question road infrastructure is essential to the City, but does this dominance in the budget jive with overall priorities?  First step in getting an answer is to ask this question as part of the budget process.

There is a big shortfall between the amount of road maintenance needed, and the amount that can be funded.  Yet, ~¼ of the capital budget for roads is dedicated for new roads or road expansions.  All of these projects add even more maintenance costs for every future year.  Often, the rationale for these road expansions is to reduce congestion.  That leads to a few reasonable questions.  What is the cost of this congestion?  What impact will the planned road expansions actually have, and for how long?   Studies have shown that in most cases, new and wider roads only reduce congestion temporarily.  Investments in transit are usually more effective.  What percentage of the capital budget goes to transit?  1.1%.

The question is unavoidable.  How do the costs and benefits of investing the money in new roads and road expansions compare with investing that same money in transit and long overdue road maintenance to existing roads?  Going by studies done elsewhere, the odds are on transit. 

And let’s not forget cycling routes, another growing priority in our community.  You won’t find a line item devoted to priority cycling projects.  Council has requested that staff add one in as consideration as a budget option.  There are a lot of people hoping that budget option gets approved.

But the thing is budget options are, no surprise, optional.

Clean water and safe, convenient cycling routes are not optional ‘extras’.  And those are just two examples.  We’re waiting for a budget truly tied to the priorities and needs of our community.

 

Naomi Grant chairs Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury


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Naomi Grant (Naomi Grant)
Sudbury
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