VICTORIA -- Prince George politicians did not find support for their idea to free up federal gas tax revenue for road repairs.
Coun. Dave Wilbur introduced the resolution on the floor of the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria Thursday morning.
The Federal Gas Tax program provides money for sustainable infrastructure projects such as bike lane and public transit improvements and is exclusive of ongoing operational costs.
The city was arguing for the ability to have flexibility to use the funds for more pressing priorities, like the ever-limited paving budget. Other provinces including Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta do not have the same restrictions on their federal gas tax money.
"We are repaving roads often in our community in the north where the climate is very different," said Mayor Shari Green, noting the bus ridership locally is not what it is in other cities. "We're pleased to have a public transit system but my buses are empty and I need to buy asphalt." Kamloops Coun. Donovan Cavers encouraged delegates not to support the proposal, citing the intent of the funding for green measures.
"I believe that it's set up so we can move ourselves away from more vehicle traffic," he said. "Putting it into transit is the way it should be spent and I don't think there should be any changes to that."
Colwood Coun. Cynthia Day also expressed concern that the focus would be removed from addressing climate change issues.
Comox mayor Paul Ives supported the city's proposal, as his town's own resolution endorsed the previous day called for the UBCM to negotiate a wider range of eligible projects in the federal infrastructure program agreement when it is renewed after 2014.
"We're not talking about reallocating gas tax money as it is between municipalities and regional districts, but we're talking about giving municipalities the opportunity to use those funds in a way that we feel meets local priority," he said.
That message - that the intent of the proposal was not to take away a local government's ability to continue to use the funding for sustainable projects - seemed to get lost in the debate, said Wilbur who knew getting the resolution endorsed would be a struggle.
"But once people are concerned about protecting something, the message somehow runs sideways and that's unfortunate because I think there was an opportunity for a win-win on the resolution," he said.
While green initiatives are important, communities can't turn a blind eye to the country's infrastructure deficit, which the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has identified as sitting at $171 billion.
"It brings to mind that, sometimes if you don't pay attention to the reality, you're almost like a Nero fiddling away while everything around you burns down," he said.
The lack of endorsement at this convention isn't the end of the road. Wilbur said he would continue to champion the idea at the North Central Local Government Association and, if it gains backing there, at the FCM level before bringing it back to UBCM next year.
The other two Prince George resolutions considered Thursday were passed without any debate as part of a block. The first supports lobbying the B.C. government for a portion of the provincial gas tax revenue, while the other - which was rolled into a similar request from Terrace - advocates for revenue sharing agreements from new resource projects.