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Metro Vancouver mayors vent infrastructure pain at regional roundtable

Metro Vancouver mayors are calling for the federal government to commit to a new 10-year plan to help fund city infrastructure upgrades, after attending a Vancouver roundtable today that included federal Minister of the State of Transport Steven Fletcher.

The roundtable forms part of an initiative by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to give mayors across Canada a chance to vent frustrations over fiscal pains, just as the federal government is slated to redraft its municipal infrastructure plan -- a plan that will determine the fate of billions of dollars in transfers to patch up crumbling city roads, bridges and sewers.

"The new long-term plan must respond not only to current infrastructure needs, but also long-range and emerging pressures such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, growth pressures, responding to new federal government regulations and fiscal challenges," said Metro Vancouver chair and Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore in a press release.

He said upgrading the half-century old Iona Island and Lionsgate wastewater treatment plants to the standards of new federal wastewater regulations will cost the region $1.4 billion dollars.

The federal and provincial governments will have to provide funds before the deadline set by federal environmental regulation, he said in the statement, otherwise local taxpayers may have to "foot the whole bill."

At a recent May meeting in Penticton, a caucus of 86 B.C. mayors convened for the first time and asked for a "new deal" with the provincial government.

Moore's statement reflects discontent shared among many mayors unhappy about the increased costs of meeting their core responsibilities -- like fixing roads and sewer systems -- at a time when they're having to tackle new responsibilities, like providing social housing and health care, because of federal and provincial cutbacks.

Nearly 92 per cent of all Canadian tax dollars are collected by the provincial and federal levels of government, meaning cities often depend on federal or provincial transfers for big budget items, said Charley Beresford of the Columbia Institute's Centre for Civic Governance in a previous Tyee article.

She added cities currently face $120 billion in costs to ensure crumbling municipal infrastructure meets basic environmental and safety standards. In Vancouver, those costs are comprised in part by a need to upgrade ageing sewer lines and wastewater treatment plants, which city engineers say currently can't cope with the flood of extra stormwater that will come with climate change.

City sewerage costs are expected to increase by tens of millions of dollars a year by 2030, according to a 2012 City report.

The report recommends a staggered increase in monthly household sewerage fees to help cover the extra expenditures.

Adam Pez is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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