NORTHEAST TOWN—Northeast Town council passed a four percent increase in water rates Thursday night for users of the Little Current and Sheguiandah water systems; this on top of a four percent increase seen last year.
The 2019 annual base rate in Little Current has been set at $445.55 a year, an increase over last year of $17.14.
In Sheguiandah, the 2019 annual base rate is $1,319.01—an increase of $50.73 over 2018. The difference in the increases being applied to the users of the two systems is based on four percent of the base rate—since the Sheguiandah water plant costs are spread amongst fewer users their costs are higher.
The Sheguiandah councillors, Dawn Orr, Jim Ferguson and Bruce Wood struggled long and hard with approving the rate hike. Councillor Ferguson asked council to consider using some of the Sheguiandah water treatment plant reserves to help cut some of the cost, but both CAO Dave Williamson and Mayor Al MacNevin cautioned that using reserves to reduce operational costs is can be “a slippery slope.”
“Sure you reduce the rates for that year, or a couple of years, but eventually you will draw down the reserves to the point that there is nothing remaining to draw from and then be left with increasing rates by 20 percent or more,” said Mayor MacNevin. “That is one reason drawing from reserves to reduce operating costs is a road you don’t want to go down.”
Councillor Orr noted that high water rates were one of the reasons she originally ran for council, but after studying the rates of other similar-sized plants on the Island and across the North Shore she found that the Sheguiandah plant user rates were actually at the low end of the spectrum.
CAO Williamson outlined a number of upcoming capital costs that council should be made aware of, including a warning from the Ministry of the Environment that the Little Current plant is nearing the limits of its anticipated lifespan and that the current membrane filters in the Little Current plant cost in the vicinity of $500,000 several years ago and would be much more expensive to replace now.
As part of planning for the future, the Little Current water plant budget includes commissioning an engineering report on the remaining lifespan of the membranes. Although the last inspection of the membrane filters indicated they were still in good working order (the pressures between the pumps moving water through the membranes indicate the water is still moving through relatively unobstructed), CAO Williamson indicated that the “noodles” within the filters could break down and would need a more invasive approach to evaluate.
Following discussion council voted to accept the 2019 water rate schedule as presented, with a four percent increase on rates for both plants.
At the request of a number of the new members of council, the operator of the plants, Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), will be conducting a tour of the water plants so council can learn more about how they are operated in the near future.