Federal dollars, and how cities across Canada will be able to access them for costly infrastructure projects, was front and centre at this year's Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.
Every year, representatives from Canada's local governments meet to set priorities for what to lobby the federal government for. This year's event in Saskatoon wrapped on Monday.
Greg Moore, Port Coquitlam mayor and Metro Vancouver board chair, said water delivery, sewers, recreation facilities, transit, roads and other "big ticket" infrastructure items are aging across the country and the feds need to be ready to step in.
"We've got some really big capital items that need to be built in the next few years. We need to be working with the federal government to ensure that cities are getting funding from the provincial and federal government on these major projects," he said.
In recent years, the federal government has been kicking in one-third of the funding for most projects, as long as the province and municipality can come up with the other two-thirds. But just how that grant system will work in the future isn't exactly clear yet.
According to Moore, the feds have committed to revising the current system of federal grants, but the details of the new system won't emerge until sometime in 2013. Between now and then, the federal government has committed to a series of regional intergovernmental meetings across the country, which Moore and other local officials are planning to be a part of.
"It's vital for us to be a part of those discussions," Moore said. "We're the closest level of government to the taxpayers and we really understand what those needs are."
In the meantime, Port Coquitlam will soon be engaging in its own public consultation process to ID which unfunded capital projects are a priority for PoCo residents.
Councillors representing the cities of Coquitlam and Port Moody at the FCM conference agreed that continued federal funds was a priority.
Coun. Linda Reimer said she thinks Canada's cities will find a sympathetic ear when it comes to the issue.
"Infrastructure doesn't sound very sexy but it's actually an investment in our communities and one of the things that came out of this conference is the notion that cities as a whole make the country great," she said. "If FCM is organized in its lobby efforts, I think it will be successful."
Also near the top of the list of grievances was the piece of the federal tax "pie" municipalities are given - currently about eight cents of every dollar.
"We either need to increase that or need [to] increase the pie in general. We're feeling the effects of downloading and that became clear at the conference," Reimer added.
Port Moody Coun. Gerry Nuttall agreed that federal dollars for local government projects took precedence, especially for traffic mitigation in Port Moody's case, but Nuttall was able to take away something else from the four-day meeting.
Nuttall said he took particular interest in the increasingly common practice for local governments to set up crime prevention committees that work to identify factors that lead to local crime and work to counter them.
"Maybe we should be looking into having a crime prevention council made up of the city, the police, the Simon Fraser Health Unit, homelessness taskforce, the community justice society - all of these groups, and have them in a room at the same time to come with a strategy for reducing crime," he said.
"I'm going to bring that report to council.'
Port Moody Coun. Diana Dilworth said she has brought home some specific notes on Saskatoon's impressive revitalized streetscapes - an issue that Port Moody council will soon be dealing with as the Evergreen Line construction starts changing the face of business areas.
Beyond that, Dillworth said she was intrigued by Saskatoon's record of preserving parks and waterfront land for public use, and funding both with parking revenue.