The Mythical Magic Money Pot

In this era of high spending debt loving Tories and global love of Keynesian economics, one of my least favorite phrases has re-entered into the public dialog. The phrase, one I am sure you have heard, is “Deferred Maintenance.”

Deferred maintenance is used to describe the deplorable state of all of our public buildings, from hospitals to universities to schools to rec centres. It is the money that should have been spent but has not been spent to maintain buildings to an acceptable standard.

When I was a young lad growing up in Dartmouth I had the privilege of attending Ellenvale Junior High School. Ms. Wall, Mr. Wilson, Mr Mathews, Mr Dawson, were all outstanding teachers who well prepared me for college, before I got to high school. One of the things that made the school so great was the approachability of the administraton, especially the Principal, Mr Malone.

I remember one day Mr Malone was in the lunch room, staring at a leak between the wall and the wooden window frames, where water was slowly seeping in. I asked him why the school board didn’t fix the windows.

He said “There is this thing called deferred maintenance. At the end of the 1970s they cut our maintenance budgets ‘temporarily’ to help deal with increases in costs, and they hoped the money would come back some day. Now its been six or seven years, and the money has not come back, and we still don’t fix the windows.”

“Well what’s going to happen?” I asked. “Well, the windows will be left alone until they rot and become a danger, and then instead of painting them every year like we used to, we will replace them, and it will cost a lot more money to replace them.”

Fast forward twenty five years. The money is still not back. We still talk about deferred maintenance.
We know your budget is going to be relatively the same year after year. Do the people in charge of the budget have an obligation to budget to maintain their buildings and assets? Of course they do.
Any business that did not ensure that the true Operations and Maintenance cost was recognized and budgeted would be considered a failure, especially if this occurred over decades and decades. It is the same with government.

It is time for the provincial government to force municipalities, agencies, and departments to set aside a reasonable amount of money every year out of existing revenue to maintain the assets that taxpayers paid so much to build.

If we know there is no future date to defer the maintenance to, that there is no magic pot of money coming, not budgeting to maintain what we already have is a failure of leadership on behalf of all the boards, agencies and bureaucrats who refuse to have the guts to make the tough decisions we need.
This is not “taking money out of the classroom/operating room/rec centre” if the money is being used to make sure the classroom/operating room/rec centre continues to contribute to the community for years to come.

Sexy, romantic, vote getting? No. Responsible, realistic, and necessary? Yes.

Oh, by the way, Mr Malone was right. In the mid 90s all the windows at Ellenvale, a 480+ student school, were replaced with shiny new Plexiglas and aluminum windows, at what must have been a greater expense then a yearly coat of paint.