City of Winnipeg has been sitting on millions in unspent infrastructure funds for decades

By | October 16, 2020

In some cases the money has been sitting idle since disco was a thing and the other Trudeau was prime minister.

The cash sits in what’s called the future services account and it’s is given to the city by developers to pay for a portion of future infrastructure work around their projects.

Those include sidewalks, lighting, road upgrades and sewage and drainage work. 

Since the mid-1970s, the city has closed the books on nearly 120 different projects, but the work hasn’t been done on almost 140 more across the city.

The city has $6.92 million in funds left in the account, and estimates it would cost just over $9.1 million to complete the work.

St. Vital councillor Brian Mayes was at one time the chair of the city’s property, planning and development (PP&D) committee and started an inquiry about how the fund was being used, prompting a report into it.

The projects are spread around several parts of the city, but the largest portion is in the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood ward.

Starting in 1994, the city starting collecting money to seal up the gravel road on Liberty Street off Willkes Boulevard.

Thousands of dollars flowed into the account, but somehow the work was never done.

Eating dust 

In 2020, the road remains gravel and many of the residents have complained about the dust that blows onto their cars, yards and homes.

“It’s terrible. Especially in the spring when it starts out. It is unbearable here. Dust covers everything. You come outside, you’ve got to breathe this dust in,” said property owner Gary Smith.

Even though the city has money in the account for a more permanent solution, it sends crews down every year to add more gravel, grade the road, then spray a chemical to keep the dust down.

Liberty Street resident Gary Smith says it’s “beyond comprehension” the city would have money to improve the road for years without doing it. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Smith wonders why no one at the city was using the money in the account to for a more permanent solution.

“It’s kind of beyond comprehension. If they’ve got the money and the plan — why don’t they just execute it? I just don’t understand that,” Smith told CBC News.

Kevin Klein, the area councillor, has been fielding complaints since he was elected about the dust and the need for road upgrades.

Then he found out about the future services account.

“The project we had been discussing that needed to be done — that hasn’t been done — because money hasn’t been available was in fact money that has been sitting there this entire time,” Klein said.

Klein says it’s time the city started to focus on better budget control and better management of the bureaucracy.

Councillor Kevin Klein has dozens of projects in his ward where there is unused money set aside. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A report to the PP&D committee is recommending at least some of those steps.

Senior staff acknowledged that “in some instances, funds collected for future works have been held for many years.”

The PP&D department collects the funds from developers, but project work is planned by other departments — public woks or water and waste.

“In the past, there has been a gap in interdepartmental communication in terms of funding sources for the capital budget,” said Mike McGinn, the city’s manager of finance.

He said the hope going forward is that communication will improve and various departments will see there is an account with some money available to close of some of the projects.

“They will be planning their work, they will see there is funding for that work, or a portion of it, in the future services account and that will become a funding source in their capital budget.”

It can’t happen fast enough for Klein, who has dozens of roads that need topping, sidewalks to be laid and lights that need hanging.

Mayes, who began the effort to look into the fund, is keen to get some lights installed for a resident.

The fund holds $500 for the project, but Mayes says he’ll find a way to make up the several-thousand-dollar difference inflation has created since the money was put aside decades ago.

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