Asset management planning is a vital component of the responsible stewardship of municipal infrastructure. It plays a key part in effectively maintaining, operating, and renewing municipal infrastructure both on a short-term and long-term basis. It is a good business practice and requires an overarching framework for action that becomes a central part of everyday decision-making at all levels of municipal operations. Municipal asset management planning has evolved from what began as an accounting exercise to a holistic informed approach to infrastructure management. While municipal asset management planning in Ontario has come a long way, ongoing support from the Province is required to ensure that this progress is not lost. An able and willing partner is a requirement to continue moving forward.
In 2012, Ontario was the first province to require its municipalities to complete an asset management plan and to provide funding to assist with the process. The following year, the Province asked municipalities to identify a critical infrastructure project in their asset management plan for provincial funding. In 2014, the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) was established. It continues to provide small and northern communities with guaranteed annual formula-based funding for asset management capacity-building activities and infrastructure projects. In 2016, the Province introduced a requirement for municipalities to complete an asset management plan that includes all asset categories covered by the Gas Tax Fund. Previously, provincial programs only required core asset categories to be included.
With the passage of the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, the Province moved from incentivizing proper asset management planning to regulating it. As with any effort to regulate, it was important to the province to standardize planning processes while taking into consideration the differences in capacity and asset management maturity across municipalities. The summer of 2016 saw consultations on the proposed asset management planning regulation provincewide.
In late 2017, the Province released O. Reg. 588/17: ASSET MANAGEMENT PLANNING FOR MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURE. According to the regulation, Ontario municipalities will need to complete a strategic asset management policy by January 1st, 2019, to be updated at least every five years moving forward. The Province listened to municipal leaders who said this regulation would be too much too soon and developed a staggered approach for compliance over a six-year period. To help address capacity concerns related to implementing the regulation, the Province announced that it would be providing up to $25 million over the next five years to help build municipal capacity through coaching and communities of practice, as well to support planning activities in small communities.
The benefits of municipal asset management planning are countless. Working together, municipalities and the Province have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Whichever party forms government after the June 7th provincial election must continue to foster this productive partnership.