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Province drops 'substantial' infrastructure cash on North Shore municipalities

At least one North Shore mayor knows exactly how they’ll spend the cash
North Vancouver resident Jon Kipling walks his doberman pup Deet over the new Spirit Trail bridge over Lynn Creek, Jan. 11, 2023. Today (March 3) the province announced $30 million in funding for the North Shore municipalities to spend on infrastructure. | Brent Richter / North Shore News files

The North Shore’s three local governments are getting just shy of $30 million in (almost) no-strings-attached cash from the province to spend on local infrastructure.

Premier David Eby and Municipal Affairs Minister Anne Kang announced the Friday one-time grants of $10.98 million for the City of North Vancouver, $10.25 million for the District of North Vancouver and $8 million for the District of West Vancouver. The grants are part of a $1 billion Growing Communities Fund being shared among the province’s 188 local governments to help them accommodate growth and pay for things like utilities, recreational facilities, parks, climate adaptation projects or planning work.

The province determined how much each municipality should get based on a formula that factors in both their current population size and rate of growth.

“Right across the board, all communities have a deficit of investment in their local infrastructure. For those communities that are growing faster, we see even greater increased demand on the infrastructure in their communities. And for those who aren’t growing as much, a lot of the barriers to growth are concerns about the demand on their infrastructure,” said North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma. “The amount that is coming to the North Shore is substantial.”

The windfall comes as the municipal councils are hashing out their 2023 budgets, with debates over capital projects taking up much of the deliberations.

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little, whose council is facing calls to get on with completing active transportation, parks and artificial turf field projects that have been approved but never funded, said his council is very appreciative of the support.

“It'll be up to the council to come up with the list, but we do have $64 million in deferred projects in our current financial plans, so there's lots of otherwise shovel-ready projects that we can be applying it to,” he said.

Little also cautioned there’s no guarantee that staff resources, contractors or construction materials will suddenly be available to break ground on all the items on the wish lists of various user groups.

“There's a deliverability aspect to all of the projects,” he said. “Just because you have the money set aside doesn't mean that the project has the capacity in all other ways to go ahead.”

The money may not be in the bank yet, but West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager said it is all but earmarked for one specific project.

“This has Place for Sport written all over it,” he said. “That’s the thing we’ve been pushing for. I wrote the premier. I wrote the minister of municipal affairs. We’ve been asking for support to get that project going.”

In January, council voted to expand the scope of the project. The exact cost of the redesigned sports field, track and lighting at West Vancouver Secondary School isn’t yet known, and the municipality is still hoping to pull in some federal grants, but Sager said the goal is to start construction this summer.

“The community will be thrilled to see this project up and going,” he said.

In the City of North Vancouver, Mayor Linda Buchanan is just as grateful for the influx of cash, but she added it will take some time and discussions among staff and council before it’s known how and where the money will be spent.

“It’s outstanding. It’s a good day.… It’s a lot of money,” she said. “The dollar amounts reflect that we’ve been a leader in delivering homes for families and seniors and people in our community in general, and so we want to make sure everyone has access to the kind of community infrastructure that needs to go along with that.”

Ma said the economic outlook for the province in the years ahead isn’t as rosy with a forecasted global economic slowdown, but she added there’s still money in the bank for grants like this.

“We have that money right now,” she said. “Let’s put it to work for people.”

All local governments are required to report on the use of the funds in their annual audited financial statements, which the ministry will be keeping an eye on to ensure it’s being spent as intended rather than squirrelled away or passed on as tax breaks for residents.

“If they want to keep receiving these kinds of grants in this way, they’re going to have to demonstrate that they can be trusted," said Ma." We’re operating on a presumption of trust right now.”

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