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Challenging budget outlook for Hamilton Public Works

As Hamilton council gets a look at the preliminary budget for Hamilton Public Works, they will be confronted with a number of challenges. In his budget presentation, General Manager Dan McKinnion paints a picture of deteriorating roads and facilities, exacerbated by climate change and other external phenomena. Some of the challenges include:

  • The city continues to fall behind on road repairs. The recommended standard rate of re-investment should be between 2 and 3 percent whereas Hamilton is only investing about 1.1 percent.
  • The condition of Hamilton’s 500-plus buildings, rec centres garages and maintenance facilities is rated as only fair.
  • Climate related events are forcing city crew to pull away from planned activities to address the emergencies. Recent events include storm damage to the waterfront trail system, collapse of escarpment retaining walls, and an uptick in downed trees related to the severity of storms. Increasingly the department will have to budget for parks, Waterfront Trail redevelopment, shoreline protection and erosion control.
  • Hamilton’s tree canopy coverage sits at just over 21 percent, against a recommended standard of 30 percent. To achieve that goal, it will be necessary to plant 80,000 trees over the next 40 years.
  • Accommodation of the city’s 7,000 plus employees will be a challenge as office leases, including those at the City Centre expire over the next year.
  • On the waste management front, the city faces a loss in recycling revenues of $2.4 Million as a result of a world-wide collapse of mixed fiber commodities. It’s getting harder to find markets for recyclables.

As by far the largest spending department in the city, Public Works is a $1.1 Billion operation. More than half of that is related to water and wastewater which is recovered on the water bill. Fees and other subsidies bring in another $124 Million, leaving $256 Million to be made up on the tax bill plus another $172 Million in capital costs which are debt-financed. The 2020 budget calls for an increase of $13 Million or 5.4 percent. City council has already agreed to an increase in staffing by 5 persons to allow for greater inspection of the combined sewage overflow tanks in the wake of last year’s sewer spill.

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