I notice the happy promise from the City that we will have a continued great water supply, provided we spend wa-a-a-y more than the rate of inflation to replace the water pipes. Several mainstream media stories acknowledged that we short-changed pipe repairs and replacement for decades in favour of more visible photo-op-friendly initiatives. Well, hello politics…
So now we have to
- pay to replace ageing pipes
- pay to “catch up” for the skipped work
and this will cost us big time. But, of course, it’s not a higher tax increase, no sir-ee it’s just user-pay, etc etc. Some people even have the gall to say it’s better than privatization, just look at the fast increases in cities that privatized … but maybe cities privatized because they were behind in infrastructure replacement and they outsourced it for a private firm to do the dirty work. And bonus, you can’t sue the City for a broken pipe, but you can sue a private firm for negligence or breach of promise.
There are a couple of wrinkles I haven’t seen addressed in the main stream media. One, is that a huge portion of the water bill is an “overhead” charge that we pay to the City. Sorta like profits, but guaranteed. Should the overhead cost go up in lockstep with the water charges?
The second is the future trend. It’s not just the 1900 pipes that are beyond their best-before date; there’s lots of suburban infrastructure that is ageing rapidly too. And those suburbs that boasted of being pay-as-you-go debt free, we now realize were just municipal Ponzi schemes collecting upfront development fees for grand visible projects like sportsplexes while stiffing other governments for the big expenditures (schools, major sewers and water pipes, major roads) or depending on developers to provide the local essentials, like streets and water pipes. And some of these municipalities neglected to keep any sort of plans or records of what pipes are where, their sizes, or conditions. Buried and outa’sight, outa’mind. We’ve been paying — and paying — since amalgamation to find and map those pipes and other infrastructure.
So I expect the cost for pipe replacement to soar over the next decades as the suburban pipes need replacement. And and there are a LOT of pipe miles in those endless crescents of six-houses-per-acre 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s neighborhoods. I suspect that those low density developments cannot possibly generate enough tax revenue to replace their pipes and roads. Bernie Madoff would be proud, and should have been (dis)Honorary Mayor of some of our suburban municipalities. This of course means every one else’s water bill will be jacked up.
Now condo boards used to follow the fine example of our municipal parents. They enjoyed their new buildings, wore down the parking lots, elevators, water and heating systems, roofs, and exterior walls, while keeping condo fees low. Seeing the coming of increased fees as replacement times loomed on the horizon, they fled or died of old age, leaving new owners to face the bills. Some of these special levies are huge and a real hardship to residents. The Province stepped in some years ago to mandate proper reserves to replace wearing out infrastructure, so gradually things will get back to an even keel. But for all those who tut tut about high condo fees, well those people are pre-funding their future major repairs while most homeowners, like the City, are not.
I think its time to mandate the same replacement plan for municipalities. And instead of levying the charge city-wide, I’d like to see it levied on a neighborhood basis, so that low-density neighborhoods (ie, high pipe mileage per house) had to put in real replacement monies, and higher density neighborhoods pay their appropriate fee for their pipes. And yup, there should be some really major pipes that we can attribute to everyone as they serve whole chunks of the city. There will always be some elements of cross-subsidization, maybe call it sharing the risk à la insurance, but the pass-the-buck era of stiffing the next generation with the bill has got to stop. As does “equalizing” the bills when it is apparent that low density infrastructure is unsustainable.