County News

Pushing to a deadline

Posted: December 6, 2017 at 10:18 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Budget analysis

Important questions being raised at budget deliberations—but finding little space for discussion.

When watching municipal council deliberate its 2018 budget it is hard to know the objective of the exercise. Too often it seems the goal of Mayor Quaiff and some staff is too move through the agenda quickly—to put a stamp on the budget by the end of the week and be done with it. Yet there are important questions. Some are being asked—some are likely being swallowed due to keep the pace going.

Hallowell councillor Brad Nieman wanted to know why the County has so many compliance officers than other municipalities. He noted that the County has four people committed to waterworks compliance—ensuring that waterworks processes are monitored and administered. Nieman says much larger municipalities manage their systems with just a single compliance officer. Others have a second person trained to enable the compliance officer to take holidays and time off. The County has four compliance officers.

Nieman wanted to know why?

Mayor Robert Quaiff interjected with his guess that it had to do with the County’s six different water systems. He did, however allow staff to answer the question.

Chief Administrative Officer James Hepburn noted that the County gets high marks from the province for its compliance performance, that “this money is well spent.” Nieman wasn’t satisfied with the answer. Value for money, after all, is not entirely measured by provincial satisfaction. Certainly users might have a say.

Mayor Quaiff decided the question had been answered.

Nieman said he had asked the question for the past three budget cycles yet had not received a satisfactory answer

CAO Hepburn suggested sending Nieman’s question to the ad hoc waterworks committee.

Nieman agreed.

Later Ameliasburgh councillor Roy Pennell wanted to know how much it cost to operate the Peat’s Point water system—serving just 19 households, and could Council divest this?

Hepburn agreed the service was extremely expensive—about $150,000 per year—and a burden to the system. He says staff are required to service the water system every day.

But he said the province won’t allow the municipality to give the system to the users—or pay them to take it on.

“There is no solution,” said Hepburn.

Athol councillor Jamie Forrester wanted to know if the County could charge these users a higher rate as a means to force the issue.

Hepburn noted that the County had moved to a uniform rate structure—that it could be opened up, but worried about the spin off.

“We would have 20 angry residents in here,” said Hepburn. “It’s a bit of a slippery slope.”

Councillor Janice Maynard sits on the ad hoc waterworks committee. She says there is “little or no chance” the province will allow the municipality to divest itself of Peat’s Point water system—but offered no substantiation for her assertion.

As for the question about a moving away from uniform billing to a system in which water bills better reflect the cost of the water system in their area—Maynard says some would benefit, some would not.

She added that uniform rates had long been accepted and suggested that even though it was a lot of money, the cost to operate the Peat’s Point water system were a “drop in the bucket.”