MANITOWANING—During the last meeting of Assiginack council in January, reeve and council passed a motion to set the water and sewer rates for the residents of both Manitowaning and Sunsite Estates but the taxpayers of Sunsite Estates, despite lobbying efforts and defraying the inevitable for a year, will see an increase of 100 percent to their yearly water bill.
Residents of Sunsite Estates, as well as other Islanders who take their water from small water treatment plants, such as those in Sheguiandah, South Baymouth and Billings, pay much more than their neighbours in Manitowaning and other larger towns whether they use the water or not.
Effective immediately, the flat rate for water users at Sunsite Estates will be $1,733/year per household and this will be billed on a monthly basis. Manitowaning water users in single family homes will pay a combined water and sewer rate of $1,409 ($740.03 for water and $689.72 for sewer).
Reeve Ham commented that, “this is a significant increase for Sunsite Estates, and for Manitowaning too, but we can only freeze the rates for so long and then it’s time to pay the piper.”
Councillor Leslie Fields observed that she hoped the people of Sunsite Estates would understand “that we’ve done everything we can, and we’re still trying.”
The reeve added that, “it’s unreasonable to expect that the rest of the township’s taxpayers will subsidize a small group. It’s not fair.” Last year Assiginack council passed a motion to cover the hike in operating expenses, by 41 percent, by using reserves. This, they said at the time, would be a one-time solution.
Councillor Bob Case expressed surprise that a delegation from Sunsite Estates wasn’t present for the January meeting.
Councillor Fields further suggested how unfair it has been that the province has inflicted expensively upgraded mandatory water treatment systems on tiny groups of user groups, then walks away.
“Perhaps a province-wide public utilities commission for small municipalities facing these problems might be in order”, Councillor Fields added.
Councillor Paul Moffatt commented resignedly that the situation is, “a Gordian knot.”
In the fall, Reeve Ham and clerk-treasurer Alton Hobbs attended a meeting with Minister of Infrastructure Glen Murray, but came back without much sympathy being expressed for their plight (the minister noting that the mandatory water treatment plant upgrades inflicted upon small and rural municipalities was at the hands of a previous government).
Some residents of Sunsite Estates also launched a petition over the summer months which they presented to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha who has been working with the residents on the matter.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Sunsite Estates resident and member of the water committee Allison Greenhill. “I understand the reason behind it, but it’s unacceptable.”
“We are trying to do the whole political process, but it takes time,” she added.
Residents of Sunsite Estates had yet to learn of the 100 percent hike and Ms. Greenhill said she was surprised to hear from The Expositor before learning the news from the municipality.
“We’re going to continue to lobby, but I’m not very hopeful,” she continued.
Ms. Greenhill noted that the issue of water rates makes it difficult for those who wish to sell their property. Ms. Greenhill, a Sunsite resident for the last six years, said she was still unsure if this would affect her staying on.
The problem, she said, is that the municipalities who are facing this problem are few and far between and that their voices, collectively, are not strong enough.