The City of Abbotsford posted a cash surplus of $29 million in 2018 as its coffers continued to swell.
But the city’s top finance officer warned council Monday that all that money and more will be needed if the municipality wants to complete all the infrastructure projects it has planned for the coming years.
Raj Sharma presented the city’s annual financial report to council Monday. It showed higher revenue and expenses, in part because of record development across the city in 2018. The city’s surplus will go into its reserves, with its general fund swelling to $90 million.
Abbotsford’s total financial assets – a general gauge of a municipality’s fiscal health – have now reached $225 million. Those assets had been in the red at the start of the decade due to several major infrastructure projects.
“This is a dream story,” Sharma said. “We were in the negative and as years have gone by we are now in very, very favourable and this continues to grow.”
Most of that money is held in reserve funds from which the city can draw in order to complete major capital projects. Its general fund, which can be used for any kind of project, now stands at $90 million.
But Sharma told council that the bulk of that money – $56 million – is already allocated to a number of different projects. The city has around another $90 million more set aside in funds reserved for sewer and water projects.
Much more will be needed in the years to come, Sharma said.
The city’s new masterplans include nearly $2 billion of infrastructure projects slated for the next 25 years. Abbotsford will hope to get federal and provincial funding to help reduce its share of that sum. In particular, it’s asking those senior governments to pay the full cost for more than $400 million of necessary dike improvements. But the city knows it will have to spend much of its own money on other projects.
“The reserve is healthy and favourable,” Sharma said, “but considering that our city is growing, our infrastructure is growing, that reserve number needs to be looked at and made sure we continue to put money aside to meet the growing demands of the city.”
Sharma said accounting standards suggest 15 per cent of a city’s budget should end up in reserves.
“We are just about meeting that target,” he said.
The reserves also ensure that the city will have money on hand when the federal and provincial government are ready to ante up for local projects – most of which require some capital investment by the municipality involved.
Coun. Ross Siemens pointed to highway widening work that will require overpass upgrades, a cost often borne by cities.
Staff, meanwhile, are working on a long-term financial plan that will set policies regarding how much money ends up in those reserves.
The report also showed that the city added $3.8 million to its rainy-day operating reserve, which now stands at $51.3 million. The city also bolsted its non-cash assets by $60 million, thanks in large part to parkland turned over by Metro Vancouver.
Its debt, meanwhile, is slated to be paid off by 2032.