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Setting the groundwork for improved asset management

County of Barrhead councillors approve new asset management policy
County of Barrhead finance director Tamara Molzahn walked councillors through the municipality's new asset management strategy during their Sept. 5 meeting.

BARRHEAD - To ensure County of Barrhead councillors make the best decisions on how to use ratepayers' dollars, they need to have a clear picture of all the municipality's tangible assets and their condition.

Unfortunately, the municipality's list of assets is currently less than desired.

However, councillors hope to change that after approving the asset management policy and endorsing the municipality's asset management strategy, road map and the associated terms of reference document during their Sept. 5 meeting.

In a separate motion, councillors also instructed administration to include activities in the asset management roadmap in the draft 2024 to 2027 budgets.

County manager Debbie Oyarzun noted that although the municipality has been keeping track of its assets, she said the new asset management program would modernize the process by compiling the information in an easily accessible form.

"It is a huge undertaking, and it will be a big step forward for us," she said.

Current assets

Finance director Tamara Molzahn added presently, the county divides its physical assets into several categories, including transportation, water and sewer, waste management, recreation, agricultural services, protective services and natural assets.

In transportation, the county has roughly 57 kilometres of paved roads, 1,334 kilometres of gravel roads, 65 kilometres of oiled (including MG30) roads and an undisclosed amount of what are termed "fair-weather roads."

Molzahn also noted that the public works department annually reconstructs eight and 14 kilometres of road and re-gravels about a third of its roads.

Also included under transportation infrastructure are the county's 146 bridges, 10 motor graders, an airport terminal building and the public works building and shop.

In the water and sewer category, Molzahn noted that most of that infrastructure is in the two hamlets of Neerlandia and Manola and the two subdivisions, MacGill Estates and the Kiel Industrial Park. 

She noted that the category also includes the Manola truck fill station and the four wastewater lagoons in Neerlandia, Manola, Dunstable and Thunder Lake, as well as roughly 43 kilometres of waterlines that the municipality operates on behalf of the Barrhead Regional Water Commission.

Under waste management, the county has six transfer stations, and they jointly operate the Barrhead Regional Landfill with the Town of Barrhead. Other assets include the Barrhead Regional Fire Services building and assorted equipment, along with the town, the municipal office building and agriculture services shop, four campgrounds and one day-use area, and several natural assets, most notably municipal and environmental reserve lands and gravel pits.

Molzahn added that the county would first focus on inventorying the tangible assets on the books before moving on to natural assets.

Problem areas and condition of infrastructure

"As for the state of our infrastructure, we consider overall our roads are in good condition, but we will have some significant renewals in 2030 and beyond that will take some significant planning and investment," she said.

Molzahn added the county's bridges are generally in good condition but are aging, with many of the structures being 40 years and older.

Oyarzun agreed, saying this could be a problem going into the future.

She added that traditionally, they only undertake a bridge replacement or revitalization project if they can secure the appropriate provincial funding.

"But right now, we have a bridge that needs repair that we can't get funding for that we are going to have to still do," she said, adding she fears those scenarios could become more frequent.

Drozd agreed adding the problem is not the cost of repairing or replacing the bridge, per se, but the associated engineering costs.

Coun. Paul Properzi interjected, saying that an increasing number of municipalities cannot afford to repair their aging bridges and have been forced to close them.

Molzahn added another area that could be costly is the county's water and sewer infrastructure, saying they do not know its general condition as most of it is underground.

"But we know they are aging, as most of it was put in the late 1970s or early 1980s," she said, adding they also know that the lagoons in Dunstable and Thunder Lake are under pressure as the county has had to close or impose restrictions due to capacity issues.

She also noted that the county's buildings are getting up in years. They've identified several repairs or upgrades for the municipal office building and an enhanced maintenance routine for the agricultural services and public works facilities.

Assessment readiness

Molzahn stated the administration evaluated the municipality's asset management practices using the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) readiness scale.

She explained that the scale is a tool that evaluates five key areas of asset management readiness: policies and governance, data information collection and planning and decision-making.

"We are at the ground level with asset management practices," Molzahn said.

However, Oyarzun said that approving the county's asset management strategy will go a long way in improving its readiness.

What an improved asset management system means

Oyarzun added that having a more robust asset management system will allow the council to conduct a much-needed service level review.

"It is something I've been talking with council for several years now and is in our strategic plan, but we've been challenged to do because we really haven't had the necessary data," she said. "For instance, on snow removal, we will have all the data on how much it costs for each pass of a grader, what we have budgeted for and if council wants a higher or lower level of service."

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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