Gore Bay council seeks further public input on water meters

GORE BAY—Gore Bay council is seeking further input from residents before making a final decision on whether water meters will be installed in the town.

Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane welcomed the nine residents who attended a council meeting Monday. “This issue has been on council’s agenda for quite awhile, especially since the fall when we held a public meeting on the proposal, and in November when we provided a package of information to water users in an attempt to answer their questions.”

Mr. Lane explained, “We have some extra information we didn’t have previously to update council on. We had applied for government funding for an engineering study to be done of all our assets, such as our streets, and have now been approved for funding of $21,000 and the grant can include an engineer investigating our water lines-system. It won’t pay for everything but this is a start.”

The town has been approved for $20,982.55 through the M3 Asset Management Program.

As for government funding that has been provided to the town for water meters installation, Mr. Lane said this grant money has to be used up by December 31, 2014, about a year later than had been originally thought. “And the issue of holding a referendum has been raised, and we can do this without holding a by-election.”

“In my opinion we have three main options,” said Mr. Lane. “We can approve, or not approve the meters, can decide to gauge what the public really wants, which could include a referendum, although there are some technical issues around it and there would be an expense. Or a survey could be done, but we have no guarantee what return we would get from the public. And even if we held a referendum, if we didn’t get 50 percent turnout it would not be binding to council. Or we could amend the bylaw for partial metering for instance Central Manitoulin did with its commercial users.”

“I think it goes without saying that most of the people we have received responses from, if not all, are against meters. Metering may derive savings but we know there is an issue with the system that if rectified would result in savings,” said Councillor Wes Bentley. “I’m inclined to think that we should use the (M3) funds for something that will look at fixing the lines, and in the end will lower the overall water payments.”

“I agree with Wes,” said Councillor Jack Clark. “Most if not all the people we have heard from are against water meters, and the costs after they are installed. I remain that I’m sure we haven’t heard from 100 percent of the people, and I think we should definitely get the feeling of everyone. A referendum is a fine process, but would take a significant amount of time and take up a lot of the funds we have.”

Mr. Clark said, “I would prefer we hold a survey to get better representation of the feeling of the water users.”

Council was informed by town clerk Annette Clarke that 34 people had returned the questionnaire back to the town with 23 against and 10 water users in favour of the meters. This is among a total of 418 water users.

“The other issue we have to consider is the users that can’t vote because they are outside the Gore Bay town limits,” said Mr. Lane.

Ms. Clarke told council that in discussions with the province there would have to be a referendum in both Gore Bay and Gordon, as there are water users in the latter.

“I find this interesting, as the town owns the system and sells water to out of town users,” said Mr. Lane.

Councillor Lou Addison said, “I just want to comment that we are thankful people attended the public meeting and answered the questionnaire. The grant application has been discussed. The part that bothers me is with some people feeling council has already made a decision on this issue. There has been no discussion among myself or council. We have not made any decision. I have received one phone call (from the public). We needed a lot of information before making a decision and we have been provided this, and received input from our citizens. We are working at making the best decision for everyone.”

“My gut feeling is we don’t need water meters,” said Ms. Addison.

Ms. Clarke noted funding for meter installation was approved in 2011, but it is unknown what the actual costs of installation will be until this goes to tender.

“I agree with Wes that we need our system infrastructure fixed first,” said Ms. Addison. “I couldn’t believe that 48 water users have to run their water all winter.” She also pointed out if they are installed, homeowners will have to pick up some of the costs from the property line, and without an engineer study it is not known where exactly the system problems are located. She also pointed out that based on consensus, most homes have one or two users and a lot of the population is made up of seniors.” Any decision we make is going to be taken seriously, and I would lean toward not going for water meters and have the funds go toward fixing the system.”

Ms. Addison noted, “We don’t have the money to get to the water line and pay for each household. There may be a portion of the lines that are not where they are should be, as lines cross across other people’s property. If anyone thinks there won’t be costs, there will be.”

“And how can we make people pay for these costs?” asked Mr. VanderWeerden.

A number of the households have leaks in the lines. There was a number that were on Gore Street and have been fixed, council was informed.

“I also have concerns as to why some municipalities decided not to go with meters,” said Ms. Addison. “Espanola decided against them—it’s the unknown as to the costs that are probably the biggest concern.”

It was agreed the funding provided to the town would help in determining the reasons for the leaks for the 48 households. Ms. Clarke noted that if this is determined in an engineering study, it would leverage other funding being sought.

“The engineering study is the precursor to other infrastructure grants being applied for,” said Mr. Lane. “But we need more work done on the problem, where they are and what can be done. We just received notice of approval for the funding, and if we used it for looking at the present system, in a year or so we would have a report noting what the issues are with our system. Then we could make an application for an alternative project to be carried out with the funds provided for the water meter (installation). But this is still way down the road.”

Councillor Betsy Clark said, “I would like to see a survey of residents carried out, and I would like to hear from the majority of people on the water system. I think there are a lot more people that would say yes to meters in the community. I think we need to do something to gauge these feelings before we just reject meters, and I agree we need to do work on the infrastructure. If we were to consider meters for commercial businesses, keep in mind we are not only losing our water due to leaks, but we have allowed other water to be taken out of the community which is not right. We have trucks coming into town and filling them with water and at private places which has to stop. It isn’t fair to our water users in town.”

“There are always people who will bend the rules and for instance water their lawns all day, but I didn’t see a lot of people doing this in the summer,” said Ms. Addison. “I wonder if meters are the best move in town with a population of 900 people, in a retirement community. We know what meters do, I’m not convinced we need them here, or save the water they are expected to.”

Mr. Clark said statistics show between 10-20 percent of water is conserved with meters. “In Little Current this may not be the case, but for the hundreds of other communities in Ontario where this has been done, the savings are there. The other point is there is not fair taxation (water costs) the way the system is set up now.”

“I’m leaning not in favour of meters,” said Ms. Addison. “I don’t see why they would be a benefit.”

Mr. Lane said council could, “structure a survey similar to a referendum question, but we need at least 50 percent return before it would be binding on council. We do have time, and in a year the engineering study could tell where the issues are, and this still gives us time to look at installing meters.”

While needing input from water users out of town, Mr. Lane said “we have not heard from outside businesses, or institutions who pay the bulk of the water system costs. A referendum would cost $3,500 and we may not get input from out of town water users, and the earliest this could be held would be August 2013. And at the end of the day, if council does not reach 50 percent input, it would not be binding.

Council passed a motion to have town staff draft up a survey to be done by local residents, and bring this back to council for its approval.

 Tom Sasvari