A multi-million-dollar wastewater treatment plant project proposed in Regina has Prince Albert’s elected officials mulling over public-private partnership (P3) funding models.
“I’m collecting information -- that’s it,” Mayor Greg Dionne said. “We haven’t even discussed whether we’d look at P3s … But, we are researching it because we know that other cities have done it.”
Regina’s proposed $224.3-million wastewater treatment plant would see the city partner with a private company that would design, build, finance, operate and maintain the facility.
“That’s something municipalities just can’t finance on their own,” Coun. Martin Ring said of the massive $224.3-million price tag. “So P3s, I think, can be an alternative to get large mega-projects done.”
The City of Prince Albert hasn’t considered any P3 agreements to date, but the possibility is always there, Ring said.
Throwing an example out there, he said a $100-million bridge is something the city would be unable to reasonably afford.
“If we were waiting for a day where we have $100 million in the bank, we’re never going to do it,” he said. “It’s never going to happen.”
This, he said, is where council would have to sit down and determine what option would result in the smallest burden on taxpayers.
When it comes to considerations around P3 funding models, Coun. Tim Scharkowski said that he’d like to see council err on the side of caution.
“As everybody knows, P3s have already hurt us, right?” Scharkowski said, citing the impending closure of North Sask. Laundry as a key example.
Costing Prince Albert about 100 jobs, North Sask. Laundry joins other facilities across the province to be replaced by a central facility in Regina run by a private company based in Regina, K-Bro Linens.
“I like the concept of it. It makes business sense, but for the community aspect of it, it hurts us,” he said. “You’re taking employment out. We’ll be losing jobs out of it.”
Although operational P3 agreements such as this come with greater concerns, Scharkowski said P3 funding models to build pieces of infrastructure might prove beneficial.
“Look at the way the whole Alfred Jenkins (Field House) has gone over and the complaints we’ve had,” he said, citing the levy that was placed on property taxes.
On the flipside, he said that “every city needs a facility like that. Saskatoon gets it, we need it to be competitive.”
I’m collecting information -- that’s it ... We haven’t even discussed whether we’d look at P3s … But, we are researching it because we know that other cities have done it. Mayor Greg Dionne
Unsure whether a P3 agreement to get the Alfred Jenkins built would have been beneficial to taxpayers, Scharkowski said that such conversations must take place in the future.
One caution when it comes to P3 agreements is that the private company only enters into the agreement to turn a profit, Coun. Don Cody noted.
“P3s are just a matter of getting money from other people,” he said. “Is there going to be enough money there to pay the piper who wants their money back?”
But, Cody said that they’re not inherently a bad thing.
“I think, on P3s, you have to take everyone on their own merit. You have to look at them,” he said.
“I think you’d find a P3 is more expensive. But, again, you’ve got to look at each one on its own merit -- who’s making the contributions, and who’s doing what and so forth.”
One big positive to P3s is the federal government’s willingness to serve as a partner.
With Regina’s wastewater treatment plant they’ve offered $58.5 million if they go with a P3.
“It is the direction of the governments, and I mean we definitely want to be on the sides with the government,” Coun. Mark Tweidt said. “So, if that’s what they want, I meant that’s the route we’ll go.”
Tweidt said that he suspects that the public would be a lot more receptive to a P3 agreement to build a wave pool than they would a $100 base tax.
“I think it’s a great way to raise money outside of always the taxpayer, which is always a good thing.”
“By getting schools, private enterprise and government buy-in, the burden on taxpayers might be lessened,” he said.
P3s are just another tool for councillors’ funding toolbox, Coun. Rick Orr said, noting that while there are no projects currently under consideration for P3 agreements he’s not ruling them out.
“At the end of the day, the people of Prince Albert have elected us to make decision, and I must say, I would not make a decision unless I had all the facts,” he said.
“If there was a business case that saved the taxpayer money, we would have to look at that. That’s our role.”