As York Region prepares to grow from its current population of 1.2 million to about 1.8 million by 2041, it will need new water and wastewater and transit infrastructure.
But after racking up infrastructure debt when population growth slowed a decade ago, Regional Council has agreed in principle to tie the development of any new infrastructure to achieving population thresholds.
“Directing growth to areas that have servicing capacity has a direct impact on the fiscal health of the Region,” says City of Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones, Chair of Planning and Economic Development. “By staging growth with existing and planned infrastructure, we can better plan for current and future residents.”
According to an infrastructure and alignment report released in June, York’s population grew at an average annual pace of 34,600 people per year between 2000 and 2008. That level of growth was well above the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area average growth rate at that time and required long-range capital infrastructure investments, including the York-Durham Sewage System south-east collector, the 16th Avenue collector and rapid transit investment along Regional Corridors.
As was common practice at the time, the Region paid for large-scale projects through debt financing. But several factors, including the 2008-09 economic recession, resulted in lower development charge revenues than forecast, which in turn slowed debt repayment and forced the Region to take on additional debt to finance infrastructure, the report says.
In 2014, Council adopted a fiscal strategy which provides tools to manage debt and better align capital spending with growth – a strategy that has allowed the Region to maintain a state of sustainable financial ‘equilibrium’ by limiting capital expenditures and reducing debt.
The Region says it remains committed to delivering the infrastructure required to support growth to 2041 and that existing infrastructure investments in approved urban communities can accommodate a significant amount of population growth without taking on additional debt.
“Over the last decade, York Regional Council made significant investment in transit, water and wastewater infrastructure, taking on growth-related debt to serve our growing population,” says Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson. “However, population growth has slowed in recent years. Optimizing existing investments in infrastructure before triggering new investment is key to meeting provincial growth targets in a fiscally responsible manner.”
As part of the provincial growth plan, the Region is undergoing a Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) to help it plan for growth and ensure the infrastructure to support that growth is in place. MCR background documents will be used to develop a new or updated Regional Official Plan. The Region expects to release a draft plan in early 2020, with the goal of Council adopting the plan by mid-2020.
Photo of realignment of 19th Avenue at Leslie Street courtesy of York Region.