Dipping into the city’s $1.5 million dollar surplus and focusing on priority projects is how Merritt’s mayor plans to upgrade outdated infrastructure while maintaining the current tax rate.
Much of Merritt’s infrastructure is outdated, said Sheila Thiessen, the city’s acting chief administrative officer (CAO) at a budget overview meeting on Feb. 19.
Thiessen is working on an asset plan to take stock of infrastructure issues in the city, but according to a report presented to city council by Scott Shepherd of Urban Systems in 2016, $48 million worth of City of Merritt infrastructure is out of date.
When the Herald asked Mayor Linda Brown if she thought the situation has improved since then, the answer was a clear “no.”
“I don’t think it has improved at all. I think we spent some of the infrastructure money last year on Cranna Crescent, which was way down on our list of things to do. So that didn’t help with some of the immediate needs that we have.”
Moving forward, Brown said she wants to focus dollars on the city’s priority infrastructure needs, such as main roads.
“Cranna Crescent was not a priority, but we had pressure from the residents at a council meeting, so hopefully we can look at what our priorities are, not pressure from the community to get things done,” she said. “Right now our number one priority is the Voght Street corner, and we are looking at repaving all the way up the hill,” Brown said, noting flood infrastructure on the Voght Street corner could be incorporated into the project.
Brown has been keeping an eye on the effect of trucking activity to the city’s roads over the years as well, she said.
“We really have to look at what we are doing with the big trucks in town. You can’t avoid them being here, but maybe we have to put a load restriction on them. I’m not an expert in that but I think we need to protect our streets to some degree,” she said. “On the other hand we have to have these truckers come in and eat and get gas and do all the things they need to do — shop, hopefully, buy lunch. So there is a real fine line.”
It all comes down to a matter of how the city plans and spends, Brown said, stressing she intends to fulfill her promise of a zero per cent tax increase in 2019 by keeping capital projects in check.
“What I’m saying to [city department heads] is ‘cut back on your wish lists. I don’t want to see a wish list, I want to see a needs list,’” she said.
The city has accumulated a $1.5 million dollar surplus over the years from over budgeting, Brown said, noting even though operating costs are going up at city hall, she believes council can keep the annual tax change at zero per cent for one or two years.
“I don’t want to always use surplus to balance a budget, but I think we have surplus and reserves that are way too high,” she said. “We know we can’t keep it that way forever, but even if we can keep it that way even for a little bit so we can just spread our base a little bit so we can bring business in, people filling homes, building homes, and creating a bigger tax base — that will all help in the long run.”