Iqaluit turns to private firms for infrastructure support

City wants help with construction and operating costs for major projects

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

DENISE RIDEOUT

The city is turning to private companies to find out if they can help out with the building and operating costs of Iqaluit’s long list of capital projects, estimated to cost up to $72 million over five years.

On Aug. 20, city administrators, councillors and municipal workers met with three southern-based companies to discuss partnering on major projects, such as running the sewage and water treatment plants.

“We’ve been talking to a few firms this week about them actually being partners with us in our $66 million or $50 million, or whatever it’s going to be, program and help us build our infrastructure,” said Rick Butler, chief administrative officer for the City of Iqaluit.

The projects include a new dump, road paving, replacing aging water and sewer lines, a new swimming pool, cleaning up the three metal dumps, starting a public transit system and replacing city hall and the fire hall.

But getting that kind of money has proved to be nearly impossible.

Last year, city council turned to the Nunavut government and the federal government for help, but both flatly turned down requests for additional funding.

The city is now considering going deep into debt, borrowing anywhere from $24 million to $35 million from the GN.

It’s also turning to the private sector for help. The city wants to partner with businesses and engineering firms that may help pay for construction of projects, and even operate some of the municipal services.

“We’re trying to get more for the dollars we have and the private sector is promising it,” Butler said following his Aug. 20 meeting with the companies. “They’re telling us that what we’re proposing in our budget, they can do it for less because they’ve got the critical mass and the expertise.”

And finding the cheapest way to build projects and keep them running is key to Iqaluit residents.

“I think a lot of people say ‘Gosh, your record doesn’t look very good. A lot of people say ‘Gosh have you really checked to make sure this is the cheapest way?’ So, that’s what we’re doing now,” Butler said.

The city’s council and administration are also keen on getting things right when it comes to spending millions of dollars. In particular, the city wants to avoid another bungled project like the sewage treatment plant.

After four years of work and $7 million, Iqaluit’s sewage treatment plant still isn’t working.

“Some of the firms we’ve been talking to they’ve built sewage treatment plants, they’ve guaranteed the price, they’ve guaranteed that they’ll operate, they train the staff and they run it for two years to make sure the kinks are out of it and then turn it back to the community,” Butler said.

The city is banking on the idea that public-private partnerships will save money in the long run. Those partnerships may also bolster Iqaluit’s chances of getting infrastructure dollars from the federal government.

“The federal government, for example, is interested in private partnerships and real jobs, so maybe their funding might come a little easier if we do get some of these innovative private solutions,” Butler said.

Before any type of public-private partnerships are signed, the city wants to get Iqalungmiut’s input on the idea. This fall, likely sometime in November, the city will hold a plebiscite to see if taxpayers support its plan to borrow millions of dollars. At that time, the city will also give residents more details about how private companies can help with Iqaluit’s infrastructure costs.

“There’s going to be lots of discussion about ‘here’s what you said you need and here’s all the capital projects and here’s how we’re proposing to pay for them and here’s some ways we’re thinking of operating them and building them,’” Butler said.

Butler will put together a report from his meeting with the private sector and present it to city councillors next month.

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