| Jul 17, 2008

Feature Article - July 17, 2008

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Feature Article - July 17, 2008 South Frontenac Water debatedribbles onBy Jeff Green

At their only scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting this summer, South Frontenac Council had only one issue on their plate, a report by Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Gord Burns on the subject of how to apportion the construction costs for the Sydenham Water system to the 270 households that are located within the village limits, and a draft bylaw that would allow the township to finally send out the bills.

If Burns’ recommendations were accepted the bylaw could be passed at the next regular council meeting on August 5, and for all intents and purposes the 10-year-old Sydenham water debate, as bitter as it has been, would be over.

Burns’ report began by outlining some of the requests made at a meeting with the Sydenham Safe Water Committee at the end of last month.

The group had argued that since current use of the plant is less than 40% of its capacity, the ratepayers should pay for less of the construction costs.

In line with Ministry of the Environment guidelines, the plant was built so that it can produce 450 litres per day per person in the village, but according to figures that have been collected thus far, only 166 litres per person is being used.

This excess capacity of the plant, so the Safe Water committee argued, would allow the township to promote more development in the vicinity of the plant, and through development fees the new users of the water could pay more of the costs.

The plan that Burns was presenting calls for residents to pay 80% of the net capital costs (after subsidies from the federal and provincial governments and the township) leaving 20% to be covered by development costs on future construction projects.

“I would suggest that I do not believe there is any merit to council agreeing to their request for reduced capital contribution to the system from that which was agreed upon in the original proposal,” Burns wrote.

The Safe Water committee also asked that the offer of loans by the township to Sydenham residents who cannot afford to pay their entire bill at once be made interest free. The bills are slated to average between $6,000 and $8,000 per household,.

“I do not believe it would be reasonable to expect the township to subsidize the capital costs of the plant by providing interest-free loans to property owners in the village,” Burns wrote.

In summing up his report at this week’s meeting, Burns said, “If council would like to entertain these proposals, then in my view that would be a political decision.”

And with that, the political decision-making began.

Two hours later, Burns’ report had been rejected by all but one councilor, and the entire matter will not be sorted out until September, at the earliest.

Loughborough Councilor Alan McPhail spoke first. He jumped on the excess capacity issue and said he did not see why current residents should pay 80% of the outstanding costs (which total $1.64 million) when they are “only likely to use 50% of the water”. He then said he did not see why interest-free loans could not be provided.

“I also can see no reason why a levy of $10 can’t be added to the general levy to help pay for this. I see no reason that this couldn’t be set up for future development of the township.”

Councilor David Hahn spoke next. He said, “This was the biggest project we have undertaken and it has created some problems for us. I would like to address the growth issue. It looks like we can grow by more than we thought. When the system was built it was based on design standards. We now have actual water usage, and this should be considered.”

He then suggested that the matter be deferred, and that CAO Burns come up with a couple of alternative financial scenarios based on the current estimate of 20% potential growth, 50% growth and “something in between.”

Loughborough Councilor Ron Vandewal could contain himself no longer. “The vote was taken to go ahead with this before myself and Gary Davison were elected in Loughborough. When the decisions were being taken, we asked for more money. The township picked up the road costs, and Loughborough picked up the fire costs. Still, we asked for more money. Council said no, no, no … I think the vote has been taken and this council has decided and I do not see any alternative.”

Bedford Councilor Del Stowe said, “If you create a water fund, which is open to anyone who has water problems, that would be ok. I don’t mind contributing to a fund that is available to people from other districts, but otherwise no way”.

“The only way I can support some sort of a fund is if everyone can borrow from this. For water,” agreed Ron Vandewal.

Mayor Davison asked for a vote on deferring the matter, and the vote ended in a 4-4 tie.

Finally a vote was taken on the report itself, and it was defeated, with only Portland Councilor Jim Hicks expressing support (Mayor Davison did not vote). “We’ve had quite a square dance, ladies and gentleman. What now?” Davison asked.

“We need more information from staff,” said David Hahn

Gord Burns said “If council agrees politically to accept a higher proportion of the capacity than was proposed I could prepare that, but if we are setting up a development fund for water, where do I go with that? I hate to be argumentative, but I need a lot more information.”

“Can you give us some options?” Hahn asked.

“It’s not just ‘give us some options.’ If you build a bridge and it’s gong to cost $10 million, you know what you have. This thing … you don’t know how to cost it,” Burns said.

Then he took a breath.

“I’ll try to come up with something”.

Then next Committee of the Whole meeting is scheduled for September 9.


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