City manager Tim Commisso says it's premature to speculate where any sewer system or sewage treatment plant infrastructure additions to next year's municipal budget may be drawn from.
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The city will likely have to rearrange millions of dollars in next year’s budget to upgrade infrastructure in the wake of Thunder Bay’s May 28 flood disaster.
But it’s too early to discuss where that money might come from, city manager Tim Commisso said on Monday, at the last regularly scheduled briefing by the emergency operations control group.
Commisso, who will be asking council Monday night to approve an independent, four-part master drainage study, said once the results are in, the city wants to move quickly to incorporate any recommendations into next year’s budget.
“My sense is it’s going to be a reprioritization,” Commisso said. “We’re putting more money into infrastructure, but my sense is that this is as high a priority, then we’ll have to shift some priorities.”
Asked if that includes dipping into the $25-million Renew Thunder Bay fund, earmarked to help pay the city’s share of a new 6,000-seat event centre to replace Fort William Gardens, Commisso acknowledged it is a possibility.
“At this point it’s premature. The thing about Renew Thunder Bay is that it’s money that’s already there. If council wanted to use it, they could use it. But the way you should be budgeting is to make sure that it’s in the budget every year and you’ve got an ongoing program,” he said.
“We might have to spend one-time dollars, but I think that’s where we really need these reports.”
Commisso said it should also be noted that Thunder Bay’s infrastructure standards are current and modern, and to update the sewage-treatment plant and the city’s sewer systems to 100-year flood levels would be a costly process.
Possibly too costly, he said.
“To move away from those standards, to a higher standard, that’s huge dollars, from the standpoint of trying to anticipate how you would deal potentially with 50-year and 100-year storms. There is a balancing act there,” Commisso said.
“It’s not just a question of spending money to try to protect against something. It’s what’s reasonable.”
The city manager is hoping to convince the province to waive the cap it’s placed on the matching portion of the money made available to the city to cover costs incurred when more than 200 millimetres of rain hit the city last month over a five-day period.
The province has promised up to $10 million to cover a portion of the city’s costs, including overtime, road repairs and uninsured losses incurred through damage to the Atlantic Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant. An additional $2,8 million has been pledged to Oliver Paipoonge and Conmee Township.
Ontario has also set aside up to $3.2 million under its two-for-one matching-fund program, which will hit its maximum when the city’s disaster relief committee raises $1.6 million on its own. Council is expected to decide Monday whether or not up to $600,000 raised locally by the Red Cross and Salvation Army qualifies for that fund.
“Some people think we have all this money. We have a cap, but we definitely know it’s going to be more than … roughing $5 million. We know it’s going to be more than $5 million to deal with all the uninsured private losses,” Commisso said.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson, filling in for Mayor Keith Hobbs who is in Quebec City for meetings on Great Lakes sustainability, said she expected Hobbs will make a plea to other Great Lakes mayors for disaster money.
“(He will) be looking to see if he can actually look at some financial assistance, as well as any other assistance they can provide us. I think this is an issue that goes very much to the heart of what he wants to have happen for our community and we hope he is successful there,” Johnson said.
City officials reiterated deadlines in place for filing for relief:
• Detailed disaster relief: Oct. 31, 2012 (assistance for losses and damages under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program.
• Advance disaster relief: July 9, 2012 (advance of $1,000 against any disaster assistance under ODRAP)
• Waster credit – Sept. 30, 2012 (Users of the city’s sanitary sewer system can receive a $207 credit while non-users of the sanitary sewer system can receive a $118 credit)
Also, residents in need of clean-up assistance are reminded the Safe Home Clean-up Program is still operational. More than 520 homeowners have registered through the city’s facilities and fleet department.
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