Town welcomes asset management co-ordinator

Sam Odrowski

The town recently welcomed a brand new asset management co-ordinator who will be integral in assessing and replacing its infrastructure.
Adam Mitchell was hired in June, has a background in mechanical engineering, and says he’s looking forward to helping Fort Frances draft its asset management plan, which focuses on replacing aging infrastructure within the town.
“I just thought it was a good way to give me exposure to all the inner workings of the town–I really like that about the position,” Mitchell lauded.
“Any given day I could be working anywhere from doing all the different infrastructure [assessments], looking at all the different buildings we have, all the way through to all the road works… it encompasses everything.”
“It’s easy to kind of focus and see, be it with an engineering background, how buildings are constructed, maintained, and operated,  but how all of these get tied in and how they’re run at a municipal level, I thought was intriguing,” he added.
When looking at the infrastructure in Canadian municipalities, a lot of it is nearing the end of its usable lifespan and will soon need to be replaced.
“A lot of this was built in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, and now we’re approaching that 50-year mark where things are expiring and maintenance is increasing, so it’s important that we manage that as best we can,”
Keeping up with levels of service is a key part of asset management as is balancing the level of cost amongst taxpayers to fund town-owned assets.
“Maintaining levels of service is very important, that’s what the citizens feel, that’s what they see on a day-to-day basis, be it the quality of your roads, to the quality of your parks, to the sidewalks, to your street lighting,” Mitchell said.
“You’ll see, year over year our maintenance [needs] are going to start to increase and if we don’t have an effective plan then things can get out of hand.”
Currently, from the assets the town has been able to asses, there is a $47.6 million infrastructure backlog, meaning the town will need to spend $47.6 million to replace all the asset’s that are nearing the end of their usable lifespan.
“We got to strive to overcome that as well as make sure that we’re planning for not only our backlog but what’s about to expire in the next five, to 10 years and make sure we have an appropriate plan there as well,” Mitchell explained.
As the town’s assessments and asset management plan currently stands, there’s a need for a 1.4 percent tax increase per year over a 20-year period to replace or repair all the town’s tax funded assets and eliminate the infrastructure backlog.
For sewer and water rate fees, a 1.2 percent increase annually over 15 years is needed.
“The challenge we’re faced with is we’re going to have a huge amount of aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced and it takes finances to do that,” Mitchell noted.
“But obviously we’re going to be relying quite heavily on federal and provincial funding.”
The plan is to chip away at the infrastructure backlog slowly and sustainably while planning for future assets as they near their end of life.
“It’s easy to look at this deficit and look at these taxes and have some concerns but I think a good way to score us would be scoring us against other municipalities of the same demographic,” Mitchell noted.
“If you do that I think you’re going to find out that we’re actually in really good shape and in really good standings.”
Currently, the town is focused on fine tuning and completing remaining assessments.
“You want your data to be as good as possible and so we have to go out in the field and collect good clean data,” he said.
“If you don’t have useful data, then how do you have a direction? How do you know the best path forward? So one of the big focuses for the rest of this year is focusing on condition assessing all of our facilities.”
From the Memorial Sports Centre to the museum to the Civic Centre, all of the town’s facilities data is currently being collected and in the winter, Mitchell says they will solidify all of the data and develop a concrete plan to replace aging assets.
The province has several deadlines with respect to asset management and so far Fort Frances has been able to stay ahead of the curve.
The town’s asset management policy was prepared to meet the July 1, 2019 deadline but moving forward the town must prepare an asset management plan in respect to its core infrastructure assets by July 1, 2021.
Fortunately, the town has almost completed their plan, with the exception of municipal facilities and parks.
Mitchell says Fort Frances is in great shape, and his predecessor, Crystal Tan, is a big reason why they’re in such a good position.
“Now it’s just maintaining what has already been started here,” he remarked.
“It is overwhelming, big shoes to fill but I’m up for the challenge. For our community it’s a great thing.
“I think at the end of next year we’ll be in really in a good shape where we can start reporting on this and then start really making some [progress],” Mitchell added.