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Infrastructure on city’s mind at TalkTober sessions

Mayor Lyn Hall speaks at the afternoon TalkTober session at the Civic Centre. Bill Phillips photo

The number of city councillors and staff almost out-numbered the public at the afternoon TalkTober session Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean the city didn’t get plenty of feedback on how the city should operate.

Infrastructure was  hot topic at previous Talktober sessions so the city decided to focus this year’s sessions on the city’s aging infrastructure. However, everything from off-leash dog parks, to road improvements, to the West Coast Olefins plant were brought up.

 “Infrastructure is such a huge issue in the city,” said Mayor Lyn Hall. “We went to the alternative approval process on $32 million worth of infrastructure.”

City manager Kathleen Soltis outlined some of the infrastructure at the sessions, stating that the median of city infrastructure is 42 years. In other words, half of the city’s roads, pipes, buildings, etc. are more than 42 years old and half are less than 42 years old.

The aging infrastructure is starting to fail. The Seventh Avenue sinkhole last year and the watermain break on Third Avenue this year are two examples of massive failures which subsequently eat up city’s time and resources to fix. The $32 million worth of projects, that the city, and will, borrow for will address some of those issues.

“I think people are starting to get a better idea (of how much infrastructure the city has),” said Hall. “I think what’s unknown is the magnitude of infrastructure that we have and the expansion of our boundaries. We have areas where we have maybe three or four houses and yet we provide infrastructure from one end of the block to the other.”

Hall said $32 million worth of projects are a “long-range” plan for the city, said Hall, so while an ask of $32 million next year is unlikely, fixing the infrastructure will be an ongoing challenge.

“There’s going to be more infrastructure need down the road,” he said. “I think every year we’ll see more infrastructure need, but the focus we had and the work that we had around infrastructure improvements was really bundled up in (the $32 million worth of projects). I think that’s going to take care of a lot of stuff that’s an emerging need.”

He added that the city and council are serious about tackling the issue, keeping in mind that residents aren’t happy with year-after-year tax increases.

“We don’t take this lightly,” he said. “We had a decision to make around the table, do we deal with this infrastructure deficit today or do we, to paraphrase one of my colleagues, keep kicking this can down the road? Council was not prepared to do that.”

He said that the plan to deal with infrastructure does not involved moving money from other funds into infrastructure.

“Nothing is being taken and set on the shelf,” he said. “We need to continue beyond infrastructure. We have other things that we’re doing and they haven’t taken a back seat.”

Talktober continues today at the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre. The mayor, members of council, and staff will be on-hand from noon to 8 p.m., and presentations will be held at 12:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Each presentation will be followed by a question and answer session facilitated by Hall. There will also be displays and staff from the service centre on-hand to take service requests from residents.

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