Residents share water meter concerns with Gore Bay council

GORE BAY—Residents made their concerns known on several issues in regards to the possibility of water meters being installed at homes and businesses in Gore Bay at a public meeting last week.

The 100 or so people in attendance questioned the need for water meters, why exact costs for having meters hasn’t been determined yet (for individual users), and why the town doesn’t fix the current water lines/infrastructure prior to looking at water meters. Residents also urged the members of council to let all water users have the opportunity to cast their vote in favour or against the installation of water meters.

“You say that council is not decided on the issue,” said Wilma Rupert. “Tonight seems to be more of a question and answer session. I just wonder if you have consensus as to whether people are in favour of the meters or not.”

“That is why we are holding the meeting here tonight, to get the public’s input,” Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane told the meeting. “The only other way is to have a referendum.”

Gore Bay resident Bob Prior said, “I came here tonight wondering exactly how much this would cost me and others with meters. But you have no idea of this, until the meters are installed. These figures should have been made public prior to the meeting so we can provide input on whether they are in favour or against them.”

Those at the meeting had the opportunity to pick up and fill out a water meter survey, which included whether they are in favour or not of meters.

It was suggested by Sandi Merrylees that the survey could be put in all residents and business tax bills, as to if they are favour of the meters or not, “so that everyone would have the opportunity to respond.”

“Ideally we would like to hear from every taxpayer-water user,” said Mr. Lane. “This is a good idea. We need to gauge public opinion from everyone. If we need to get a barometer of how everyone feels we have time—we don’t have to make a decision on this by the end of the year, we don’t have to rush into anything yet.”

Paul Purvis stated, “I appreciate council holding this meeting to get the feeling of members of the community. A lot of people felt this thing was a foregone exercise and council had already decided to go ahead. I like the idea of a referendum.”

Mayor Ron Lane pointed out in a presentation he made at the beginning of the meeting, “council has not made a final decision yet on whether to proceed to install meters.”

Mr. Lane provided a synopsis of why the water meters could be looked at, as well as why not. He said with meters, the current system would move from a flat rate to a more equitable user pay rate system. “You would pay for what you use just like other public utilities.” It would also encourage users to be more efficient. Statistics indicated metering will reduce demands on average between 10-30 percent and could be as high as 40 percent depending on the community mind set of the people using the system, said Mr. Lane. This would result in enlarging system capacity and creating savings in our water and waste systems by reducing hydro and chemical costs and extending the life of the current equipment. It would also make it easier to account for production of water more effectively and assess levels of water loss.

“Funding is now available to cover two-thirds of the costs (of installation),” said Mr. Lane. “There is no guarantee this funding will be available in the future.” As well, by acting now the town would be compliant to further legislation mandating water meters in every community.

The annual water production in Gore Bay is currently about 282,000 cubic meters (62 million gallons or 282 million litres), said Mr. Lane.

Meter readings would be done remotely so there would be no need to enter the premises to take readings, the meeting was told. Back flow prevention devices would be included, as well as leak detection devices.

As for reasons to not install water meters, Mr. Lane pointed out that the province hasn’t mandated the use of water meters yet, but it is recommended by MOE as a best practice. There are problems with installation due to aged plumbing in some homes, and problems with (47) homes that currently run water during winter to avoid freezing pipes.

The proposed project costs to supply and install water meters, purchase complete meter reading system, supply and install backflow prevention devices, and purchase of leak detection devices is a total cost to the municipality of $346,492.80, which would be offset by two thirds funding, leaving an unsubsidized cost of $92,385.80, the cost to the municipality. The cost to the user would be approximately $221.00 each with grant or $823.93 without a grant, the meeting was told. As for administration costs, they will increase slightly to allow for a billing on a quarterly basis and the reading of the meters. Reading of meters will cost approximately $209 per year, and billing costs will be approximately $1,504 per year if billing is done quarterly instead of twice each year as it is now. This would equate to $4.10 per bill for the billing portion of the metering system.

“Metering is not a means of increasing revenues,” said Mr. Lane. “The municipality will continue to collect revenues based on its water/wastewater budget needs and the system is funded solely from the sale of water and sewer and not property taxes. Metering would be recorded for a minimum of one full year and fully analyzed prior to any change to the rate structure being made. Rates would then be established based on consumption and budgetary needs.”

As for whether a users water bills will go up or down with water meters, Mr. Lane explained, “The less water you use, the less cost.”

However, Mr. Lane pointed out, “it can be expected that rates with or without meters will increase as costs increase associated with the treatment, infrastructure replacement and repair, and energy also will rise over time. Nothing stays the same, and with or without meters the costs can’t stay the same.”

“But who can vote one way or another if we don’t know the actual costs involved to each of us?” asked Ken Wright.

Paul Purvis questioned, “is the one administration cost to do everything—labour, accounting, reading the meters—the initial cost of digging and maintenance costs to replace or make necessary repairs? And has council ever talked to ratepayers as to whether they can afford increased costs; we have seniors in town who are on fixed incomes, and young families who are having a hard time keeping up to costs.” He also pointed out that meters have not been mandated by the province.

Brian Bell said cost comparisons should be taken of the Northeast Town and Central Manitoulin before and after they installed water meters.

Mr. Lane said the latter information can be garnered. “I did say the rating structure would fit the community—this would not be one size fits all. I understand people are concerned about the possible costs, and we will make that available.”

Prior to looking at metering water, the town should be looking at having a good water supply, said Larry Morrison. Currently the town has a very antiquated system, he added.

One resident pointed out there are 47 homes in town that have problems with water pipes in the winter and have to let their taps throughout the winter.

“The problem is the infrastructure that needs to be upgraded, that is a problem in town,” said James Weppler.

“Before we look at metering, make sure infrastructure is there delivering the water,” said Maureen Armstrong. “Having to let taps run from November to April to prevent freezing is unacceptable. The infrastructure needs to be looked at before meters. I can’t imagine how much water is being lost by those of us who have to keep our water running all winter—thousands and thousands of gallons.”

Town clerk Annette Clarke acknowledged there is a total of 47 homes on this list and agreed this leads to a huge waste of water. “We will have to look into what can be done. Whether or not the meters go ahead, a permanent solution will have to be investigated.”

“As indicated, one advantage if we go ahead with meters is it is helpful in determining where the leaks in the system are,” said Mr. Lane. “The problem is to replace the system would cost millions and the government is not offering grants for this work.”

“I would love to be able to say this is what the costs will be for everyone, but if the meters are installed and we can monitor this for a year, we won’t know,” said Ms. Clarke.

“Then why not fix the system before putting in meters?” asked Bill Sloan.

The cost structure and how users will be charged should have been addressed before looking at meters, said Ms. Merrylees. “Aren’t we putting the cart before the horse?”

Mr. Lane told the meeting that all comments and suggestions would be taken into consideration by council, including the possibility of sending out surveys to all water users in town as to whether they are in favour or against water meters before any decision is made by council.

Tom Sasvari