Applying for federal funds

The City of Swift Current has received close to a million dollars in federal pandemic funding and it is also submitting an application for infrastructure funds to a federal COVID-19 resilience funding stream.

Kari Cobler, the City’s general manager of corporate services, informed the regular council meeting on Oct. 5 that the City has received $990,495 from the federal Safe Restart Program.

“The intention of the funding is that it is targeted towards pro-active measures to assist in minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” she said during an online media briefing after the meeting. “The funds did flow to municipalities in recognition of the fact that municipalities are on the frontline of restarting the economy. We're managing public spaces, and we're continuing to provide critical services to communities. So at this point in time, we have not had depth of discussion on where those funds would be allocated, and certainly it is something that we will be putting forward to the new council for them to make the decision through the 2021 budget process.”

The federal government provided $70.3 million in funding through the Safe Restart Program to municipalities in Saskatchewan. The funding is distributed to municipalities through the provincial government. Municipalities can prioritize the areas where they want to spend the money.

“There are no stipulations around spending the money by a certain date and time,” she said. “The correspondence we did receive from the province does state that municipalities have the flexibility to spend the money wherever they need it most, and that can include any proactive projects or any future expenses, but in terms of a deadline, there wasn't anything put forward in the documentation we received.”

The City will have until Oct. 30 to submit a funding application to the federal government’s COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream (CVRIS) under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). The application details were only released in the week before the council meeting, and the City will therefore be under pressure to complete all the paperwork.

“There's a lot of work,” City General Manager of Infrastructure and Operations Mitch Minken said during the media briefing. “It's amazing how much detail they want on your project as you provide that and there's little or no warning that they're releasing these things. With a five-week turnaround to get to an application, we're going to be putting a lot of effort in over the next little bit to tighten this up.”

Construction on projects funded through CVRIS must be completed by Dec. 31, 2021. Municipalities are allowed to submit one application with maximum eligible cost of $10 million. Eligible projects must fall into one of four categories – building retrofits, repairs or upgrades; COVID-19 infrastructure to support physical distancing; active transportation infrastructure; or disaster mitigation and adaptation infrastructure.

The City considered three capital projects as candidates for this application. Key factors in terms of the CVRIS rating criteria are project readiness, completion within the timeline, and enhancement to public and environmental health.

The City decided not to submit any of the two projects related to disaster mitigation due to concerns over completion within the timeline.

“It was all work related around the creek, which requires environmental permits,” he explained. “There's a fair bit of risk that we may not get our permits in time to meet the end of 2021 deadline. There are possibilities of other funding for some of that work.”

The City therefore made a decision to submit a project that fits the criteria of active transportation infrastructure. This project will involve the construction of over 11 kilometres of new pathway and sidewalk, the installation of pathway lighting and furniture along the Chinook Parkway, as well as landscaping and plantings.

“The objective here of course is to create connectivity, so you could move either as a pedestrian or as a cyclist throughout the city,” Minken explained. “Those sidewalks are intended to connect with pathways so that people can move about, and in the north part of the city some of the sidewalk development was left for when the commercial development would happen. It left us without some sidewalks and then of course the Chinook Parkway master plan had developed a plan to get from our existing trail system, which ends at the South Service Road, to connect the northeast and the northwest into our pathway system to encourage people to be able to move about the city without having those gaps in there where they don't feel safe moving on city streets.”

The City feels confident the work for this project can be completed within the CVRIS timeline. A key benefit that helps to make this project shovel ready is the significant work already done by the City to create relevant planning tools in relation to the transportation network.

This project will be guided by the Chinook Parkway master plan, which outlines a 25-year plan for upgrades and future expansion of the parkway system. The City has also developed a transportation master plan with goals to promote connectivity and to make it easier for residents to move around the city by foot or bicycle.

The total cost of this active transportation expansion project will be between $4.5 million and $6 million. CVRIS will fund up to 40 per cent of the project cost and up to 33.33 per cent will be funded through provincial ICIP contributions. The City will be responsible for the remaining costs, which will be between $1.3 million to $2 million.

Minken said one of the options might be to use money received through the Safe Restart Program towards this project.

“We will have to come up with the funding from somewhere,” he mentioned. “So whether that's from existing budgets that are already in place or planned, existing projects, or other streams of funding. Like Kari said, there are no limitations on that funding, so it may or may not fit that criteria. That will depend on as reported on the next council.”

The submission of this application for CVRIS required a council resolution in support of the project. Councillors therefore approved a motion during the meeting to support the active transportation expansion project application and to fund the municipal share of the project.

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