Work continues on the Mufford overpass project

Work continues on the Mufford overpass project

Township debt is on the rise

Several major projects have led Langley Township to borrow more than $40 million.

In 2002, Langley Township’s debt was the equivalent of $69 per person.

A decade later, with a vastly larger population, the per-capita debt stands at $759 per capita.

“This is a bell and it’s ringing,” Councillor Kim Richter commented recently when council gave early readings to bylaws to authorize the municipality to borrow $42.5 million for major infrastructure projects that are fueling the massive increase.

The bylaws were formally adopted on Monday, June 11.

The borrowing is for:

– $33,535,000 for the East Langley Water Supply, which will require a new pipeline to take water from the Greater Vancouver Regional Water District’s terminus in Willoughby to Aldergrove.

– $7,015,000 for the Township’s share of building the Barnston Island/Maple Ridge pump station;

– $2,033,000 for safety initiatives around the Mufford Crescent/64 Avenue railway overpass, currently under construction; and

– $1,020,000 to loop the existing Labonte Crescent water main from the current T-junction configuration, to improve flow and reduce bacterial growth.

While acknowledging the need for the projects, Richter was alarmed at the burden on taxpayers.

“I think it’s time for us to pull the reins in on spending,” she said.

“We simply cannot go into debt to the extent we have gone into debt.”

Noting that the per-capita load taxpayers are carrying has increased by 176 per cent in 10 years, Richter added: “That is just not sustainable in the longer term. We’ve got to stop spending . . . and we can’t switch spending into borrowing.”

The debt will be repaid from development cost charges which are one-time fees paid by developers who typically pass them on to the people who buy their buildings, and from utilities and reserves, both recharged by taxpayers.

However, administrator Mark Bakken said, the impact on taxpayers on the cost of borrowing is zero. He added that the borrowing is by the utilities and developer-funded reserves.

“But it still has to be repaid, whether it comes from utilities or not,” Richter argued.

Saying that there are no further projects anticipated that would require borrowing large sums of money, Bakken advised council that the Township “tends to repay our debts fairly quickly.”

He likened the debt to a family situation in which adult children owe money, but that debt does not become the parents’ debt.

“Grant programs from senior governments are drying up,” he further advised.

Councillor Charlie Fox offered a word of caution about the high cost of providing water, noting that Metro Vancouver is faced with an $800 million bill for the Seymour/Capilano filtration system. The Seymour/Capilano watersheds supply about 70 per cent of the Lower Mainland’s drinking water.

And, he added, it is just coming to light that there may be further expenses incurred for the Coquitlam watershed.

“Holy crap,” was Councillor David Davis’ reaction to the cost of the projects. Acknowledging in particular the need to bring water to Aldergrove, Davis warned that “we have to watch (spending) next year and the year after.”

Mayor Jack Froese defended the borrowing. “It is our duty as a Township of Langley to ensure that we have water,” he said.

“We are a fast growing municipality and there is no way around that. We have to bite the bullet and pay for it.”

Froese said that 10 years from now, the cost of the projects would likely be around $60 million.

“We are actually doing future generations a favour” by borrowing the money for bringing regional water to Aldergrove, improving the connection at Labonte Crescent/Glover Road, and for safety initiatives at the Mufford overpass, he said.