Initial debate on how to spend its $2.3 million Growing Communities Fund grant saw Gibsons’ elected officials recommend $950,000 go to replace its wastewater treatment plant centrifuge. If that item, considered at a March 14 committee meeting, is endorsed by council, the replacement will go forward in 2023. Without the need to borrow for the project, no alternative approval process will be required, creating additional savings in staff time.
A change to grant funding for the centrifuge project will not impact the town’s general property tax rates. It will reduce future demands for capital funding in the sanitary sewer fund and offset future increases in user rates and fees for those services. Those had been forecast to continue to rise at a level of five per cent per year past 2030 to cover required infrastructure costs.
The committee also recommended a project once coupled with the centrifuge, upgrading of the sewer force main between the Prowse Road lift station and the treatment plant, be deferred until 2024.
Spend on infrastructure or impact?
As for how to spend the rest of the grant funds, the committee requested a report detailing both staff’s priorities and projects suggested by council members. Mayor Silas White asked that the report be ready for discussion at a committee or council meeting in the coming weeks.
The committee considered a staff report that laid out general approaches for using the money. The document suggested options to “stay the course” by proceeding with projects already on the town’s five-year capital plan. Another approach suggested was to save the funds until after “big picture planning processes” such as active transportation or wastewater system plans are completed and apply them to upgrades and project priorities identified in those initiatives.
Those at Gibsons’ committee table expressed preferences to use the grant money earlier to complete projects rather than placing the funds in reserves for future needs. When questioned about the wisdom of that approach, director of finance Lorraine Coughlin advised them that “currently inflation cost pressures are more than debt cost pressures”.
Coun. Stafford Lumley said he wanted the funds used to “do infrastructure improvements and give something tangible back to the community at the same time”. He stated he wanted the grant money to make an impact past routine projects and “to get a win for something that we would never be able to pay for”. Creating a recreation amenity in conjunction with an infrastructure initiative, such as an improved seawalk combined with a sewer line relocation project along the town’s waterfront area was an idea suggested by Lumley.