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Council agrees to exception on wastewater charges

by Patrick Raftis

MAPLETON - Township council has agreed to allow a Moorefield business to install an additional water meter to allow for manual calculation of wastewater discharge.

Council agreed to the move on July 11, despite a staff recommendation to maintain the status quo.

At the May 9 meeting, Spectrum Feeds general manager Mark Flaherty told council the business experienced a 534 per cent increase in water and wastewater charges for its two Moorefield facilities after metered water billing was implemented.

From April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, the business paid $15,476 for metered water and wastewater. Prior to meters, the business paid $2,897 annually for both Moorefield facilities.

“While we acknowledge that under that billing we may not have been adequately paying our share, an increase of 534 per cent is not reasonable,” Flaherty wrote in a letter to council.

Although Flaherty estimated 96% of the water used by the business is not returned through the wastewater system, he told council “we’re paying more for wastewater now than we are for our primary water.”

The business requested council lower its wastewater charges,  allow it to revive a decommissioned well or charge the business in accordance with the amount of wastewater returned.

Spectrum Feeds offered  to install equipment at its own cost to validate the amount of water returned to the system.

At the July 11 meeting, a staff report from Mapleton public works director Sam Mattina noted township staff toured the facility and confirmed the water used in production at the company’s Booth Street facility is primarily consumed by the production process.

The staff report notes that traditionally water and wastewater charges to a user are measured through a water meter entering the facility and the cost of the wastewater consumption is based on the volume entering the facility.

“This system allows for a fair and efficient method of financially sustaining the operation of the water and wastewater system to maintain conformance to provincial legislative guidelines as well as ensure continual maintenance and operation of the entire system,” the report states.

The report outlines three options for council to consider:

- installation of a metering device on the sanitary sewer discharge pipe to determine volumes;

- installation of a separate water meter on the interior separated production water line and charge the user for only the wastewater collection assessment amount not related to the production water consumption; or

-maintain the status quo.

The report notes township staff consulted with other area municipalities.

“Comments unanimously denounced entertainment of industry requests for special individual considerations with respect to wastewater collection charges being exempt as a result of intake water being consumed in their production processes,” the report states.

Comments also indicated implementation would be “very onerous” to the municipality, financially and administratively, even though all of the costs associated with such installations would be borne by the requesting facility.

“Furthermore, allowing one installation would then open up opportunity to precedence to entertain other requests from other users and result in significant revenue losses by the municipality, in addition to increased administrative costs.

“The lost revenue would have to be assessed to other users which would require a subsequent revision to the current water rates to ensure that sufficient revenue is generated to offset expenses,” the report explains.

Mattina estimated it would cost the municipality about $6,000 per year in lost revenue, plus additional maintenance costs, to accommodate the company’s request.

While noting his support for “this very well done report,” councillor Dennis Craven expressed concern about the impact of council inaction on Spectrum Feeds.

“We don’t have a whole lot of businesses in this municipality and any time we can support them I think that we should be doing it.

“But the timing’s very difficult because you set precedents … I just think it’s unfortunate that we can’t help the situation a little more.”

Councillor Michael Martin said the issue represented “a great opportunity” to show support for a local business.

“Depending on which side of the bed I roll out on, I waffle back and forth about the system that we have,” said Martin.

Noting that waste and wastewater charges were formerly based on a flat fee system, Martin pointed the municipality now bases wastewater charges, “which is two-thirds of someone’s costs in a month, on your water meter.”

Acknowledging the township’s water and wastewater infrastructure “warrants a certain amount of revenue regardless of the water usage … we have a metered system and we have a company here which, in my mind,  has clearly identified an issue … obviously their wastewater does not (correspond) to their water.”

Martin added, “Yes we have to be mindful of the revenue but … what’s fair is fair.”

Councillor Lori Woodham stated, “I see that this as an opportunity where we should be able to work together. I don’t see any reason why we can’t come up with something, either option number one or two, to work with Spectrum and to keep our business.”

Craven cautioned, “If you’re going to set presidents, somebody else may come along with half the figures that Spectrum has, or a quarter of the figures. Are you going to be able to draw a line in the sand and say … when you cross this line you get a reduction?”

In regard to concerns about other water users wanting the same consideration, Woodham pointed out the cost of the additional meter would be borne by Spectrum Feeds, “and it’s not going to be cheap either.”

She speculated that for a residential user, “the cost that they would need to put in the extra meter, there is no way that they would justify it.”

Mayor Neil Driscoll agreed any solution needs to be fair.

“Something we often forget about with our businesses in the municipality is they’re already at a disadvantage,” said Driscoll.

“Every time there’s a tax increase, they’re hit hardest. Every time there’s a water rate increase they’re hit hardest because they use the most; and a two per cent increase on a $50,000 tax bill is a lot more than a two per cent tax increase on a $6,000 (residential tax bill).

“And if this is a time that we could come in and help a business in Mapleton, I think it would really open up the doors to other businesses that need this help too.”

Craven asked if the town could consider allowing the company to drill its own well “and not use town water at all?”

“If we start allowing people to do things like that ... everybody’s just going to break away and do their own thing,” CAO Brad McRoberts pointed out. He added that once a system is established, volume of material flowing through isn’t what dictates costs.

McRoberts explained, “Volume is a measure the ministry likes the municipality to have to push conservation.”

However, he added, “The reality is the true cost of the operation of the system is really flat. Whether you have 10 users or two thousand users it would be the same amount of money.”

A resolution to maintain the status quo regarding billing was unanimously defeated by council.

A subsequent motion to support the installation of a separate water meter, paid for by Spectrum Feeds, on its water production line to allow for manual calculation of wastewater discharge was approved unopposed.

July 21, 2017

 
 

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