Water rates among the issues discussed by Council this month

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The only regularly scheduled meeting of North Dundas Council took place earlier this month, on August 8. The evening opened with a public meeting regarding a proposed zoning amendment just north of Winchester. The amendment would see a change from rural zoning to light industrial zoning for a property located where County Road 31 meets Spruit Road. Facts were presented, with no questions or comments from members of the public or Council. Township staff had recommended the amendment be approved, with an exception preventing residential or daycare use of the land because of the adjacent propane storage facility. Council had discussions in closed session following the public meeting. 

The next, and perhaps most closely watched phase of the meeting, was dedicated to a discussion of municipal water and sewer rates. Ken Sharratt from Sharratt Water Management Ltd was contracted by the Township to review local water and sewer rates, owing to the “exponential growth” experienced in the local population in the last five years. 

The specific problem currently facing the Township is that infrastructure upgrades and expansion for a water and sewer system that is already essentially at capacity are expensive. There are large upfront costs to be paid for such work, and when the costs are recouped slowly over time from user fees, borrowing money is often necessary, which costs the Township and taxpayer interest money, and is restricted by the municipal debt ceiling. 

Ken Sharratt’s report recommends that the Township approach the federal and provincial governments for help, stating that other municipalities have been helped with similar situations regarding their debt ceiling in the past. The Township has a few years before its debt ceiling is reached. 

Currently, costs for new water and sewer infrastructure in North Dundas are paid by existing water and sewer users. A recent study by Township staff confirmed that it is common practice for surrounding municipalities to have developers pay for these costs. 

Councillor Matthew Uhrig raised the point during the meeting that it is unfair to continue burdening taxpayers with paying for new infrastructure, when it is far more common practice to have developers pay for the needed upgrades to the water and sewer system. He commented that Council has previously been cautious about scaring developers away, but that maybe it’s time to revisit the issue. Mayor Tony Fraser addressed this, clarifying that he does not expect taxpayers to fully pay for upgrades, but rather feels it’s necessary to have a sufficient tax levy to have the required money up front for when infrastructure upgrades are needed. 

Councillor John Lennox argued for a system in which the Township is not paying upfront costs. Deputy Mayor Theresa Bergeron suggested that large water users should have a “special rate”. She also mentioned that with a build cost of about $40,000 for a new well and septic tank on rural properties, paying about $1,000 annually for clean water and sewer access with no maintenance costs is a good deal for municipal water users. However, it was clarified later in the meeting that costs to connect to the municipal system are about $27,000 for a new home. 

Councillor Gary Annable stated that he doesn’t want costs passed onto the taxpayer. He also pointed out the importance of looking to the decades ahead. The differing perspectives coming from all five members of Council stirred up healthy discussion. Council members agreed on “option A”, which proposes 3-4% annual water and sewer bill increases, much lower than the 6-9% increases that would come from choosing “option B”. Under option A, the capital charge is higher to offset the costs of new development, rather than putting these costs on existing water users. 

Some housekeeping items were addressed by Council as well. Changes to the Township’s overtime policy for staff were approved, allowing those employed in salaried positions to bank time off in lieu when they put in extra working hours. The Township’s full time salary grid was also adjusted with an increase to bring the level up to the 60th percentile in line with other municipalities. Council also confirmed the Township’s focus on the following strategic areas: employee satisfaction, infrastructure updates, collaboration with neighbours, public communications and outreach, and having a range of housing. 

Many requests came into Council on August 8 for various routine things, such as the permitting of alcohol at events, road closure requests, etc. – far too much to describe in detail here. The meeting concluded after just over two hours. 

On August 16, a special meeting of Council took place, this one lasting just 10 minutes. The purpose was to confirm and pass Council’s previously stated support for “option A” for the water and sewer rate increase plan. Council approved “option A” at the meeting, with changes implemented the next day, on August 17, so that the funds required to invest in growth infrastructure can begin to be collected immediately. 

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