‘It’s a monster,’ says Deputy Mayor Bruce MacDougall
SUMMERSIDE – Ditch infilling has been a contentious issue since the Town of Summerside amalgamated with the communities of Wilmot, Sherbrooke and St. Eleanors in 1995 and still remains a hot topic 19 years later.
Infilling the 40 kilometres of ditches throughout the city is proving to be a costly and time consuming effort. Residents are becoming frustrated with not knowing when their ditches will be filled. City council plans to make it a major priority in its new capital improvement plan.
“This ditch infilling thing has been on my back for the last 20 years and it’s an issue. It’s a monster,” said Deputy Mayor Bruce MacDougall. “When the city was amalgamated that was a promise that was made - the city would commit to infilling the ditches.
The city is proposing a 10-year capital improvement plan that will outline the municipality’s priorities over the next decade. Ditch infilling is one of the main issues on the table. The question is, when will the work be done?
Summerside has 40 kilometres of open ditches to infill at an estimated cost of $50 million. It will take time. MacDougall said residents want to know if there can be a timeline for the work.
The deputy mayor said the city should have a document that would do this, that will give people a general idea of when they can expect their subdivision to be completed or when they can get their street updated.
“The residents in Wilmot and St. Eleanors went from $1.46 (residential property tax rate) to $1.72,” MacDougall said. “The people inside of town went from $2.03 to $1.72. It’s something that has to be leveled out. We’re trying to but we’ve just got to commit the dollars to it. The last couple of years we’ve committed the gas tax to it. I’d be the first one to put my hand up to continue it.”
Councillor Tina Mundy shared MacDougall’s feelings.
“I have a lot of ditches in my ward as well,” she said. “Some are deep enough to lose a small child in and that’s no joke. For the past four years that has been the number one complaint that I receive from my constituents.”
Mundy said the capital improvement plan appears to be the way to go to deal with the issue. Once the plan is drawn up residents on any individual street will know where they stand and why in the priority order for ditch infilling.
“It doesn’t put the onus on me as a councillor to be coming in here every year and fighting during budget time for the ditches in my ward and trying to justify why this ditch should be filled over this ditch,” Mundy said.
Mayor Basil Stewart said there has been criteria set out in the past for ditch infilling but it hasn’t been followed.
“If we come up with a criteria right now, that doesn’t guarantee that it won’t change next winter,” the mayor said. “There was a criteria in place for ditches to be done at a certain time but other things happened and others (ditches) got done. If we’re coming up with a plan, how can we guarantee the people that if it’s put in place it’s going to happen?
Summerside Chief administrative Officer Bob Ashley said the city needs to do a better job and giving residents a timeline but cautioned there are no guarantees.
“I do not think you can give a guarantee because priorities do change, things happen and money is short,” he said. “However, we can still try and come up with more of a robust criteria that citizens can rely upon that go from year to year. We haven’t done a very good job at being consistent with that in the past. That would be one of our goals, to try to establish more consistency and more reliability even if we can’t lock it down to a promise. We can’t predict the future. We don’t have crystal balls. We can’t make contracts 10 years down the road. But we can give people good indications as long as we’re consistent and we’re transparent about what we’re doing.”