Down the Drain: Getting Out of the “Banking Business”

As Councillor for Ward 12 I take great pride in going to work every day with the mandate of exploring ways to make Calgary an even better place.  The City of Calgary has an obligation to Calgarians to explore new and innovative ideas that may create efficiency, save taxpayer dollars and provide better services.  Getting out of the “banking business” is an idea I have heard at a number of meetings, and I would like to share the concept with you.

“Banking” is not something you would commonly associate with waste and fresh water infrastructure.  Here is how “banking” works:

  • The City extends a regional main line into an area that is being developed
  • Developers will connect into the main line to service communities/developments
  • The City acts as “banker” and collects acreage assessment levies from any new development

Picture it like this; the City builds the river and the developer connects the tributaries.

 

 

Banking 2

 

Installation of these lines should be handled by the developer.  The developer would build the main regional line, and the costs for other parties connecting to this main line would be collected by the developer through endeavours to assist.   The City would act as a regulator and operator of the line and would collect correct levies for the connection to the waste water treatment facilities.  By privatizing the construction of these main regional pipes, the City can move into a regulatory capacity.  The City would provide the framework to oversee the installations and to ensure they meet City standards and abide by any development prerequisites.

The City would still have to maintain full control over the building and operation of water treatment plants for both fresh water and waste water.  The City must ensure a level of safety and quality with regards to water treatment and would continue to maintain that responsibility.  Waste water treatment plants like Fish Creek, Pine Creek and Bonnybrook are critical pieces of infrastructure for the City of Calgary.  Together these three plants treat over 430 mega litres of waste water every single day, which is enough to fill the Calgary Saddledome nearly two times.  While retaining control of these facilities and their operations is absolutely necessary, there should be room to explore decentralizing the construction of main regional lines into new development areas.

bonnybrook
Bonnybrook Facility

 

When Council approves a new Local Area Plan a growth overlay is applied to unserviced or partially serviced lands.  In order to remove the overlay, it must be demonstrated that the required infrastructure is funded by the City or through an accepted developer proposal.  These developer proposals could be applied directly to the construction and installation of regional main lines.  This structure would expedite the process of getting sites ready for development and free up significant City resources.   Development would move forward at the risk of the development instead of at the risk of the taxpayer.

There is a perception that the City often subsidizes suburban development.  If the developers were made responsible for main regional lines, the City could focus on collecting correct levies for water treatment plants and regulate the appropriate development of new Local Area Plans.  Developers are currently responsible for the installation of most utilities in new developments, so this would not be a significant change from current best practices.  The City would be in a position to collect exact acreage assessments and water/waste water levies for services provided by the City of Calgary.  No suburban subsidy would exist in this structure, just fair value for services provided.

It is imperative that the City continue to identify innovative approaches to current process.  If there are areas in which the City can streamline or identify efficiency, we must be willing to have those conversations.  By providing innovative ideas and having an open debate on these issues we can flush false perceptions down the drain and focus on making Calgary a better place.