Residents to be provided with more information on municipal water meters

GORE BAY—Every household in Gore Bay will be provided with an information package concerning the proposal of installing water meters in homes and businesses within the next three months after council debated the issue at a committee of the whole last week. The package will include a sample rate structure, as well as answering questions that have been raised by the public and once further input is provided, council will make a final decision as to whether a referendum will be held on the issue.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to discuss water meters. As everyone is aware we held a public meeting a short time ago and received significant input from local residents, which is good and what we were looking for,” outlined Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane. “Since the meeting we have received a number of comment sheets and letters. Whether we come out with a motion tonight will be based on discussion and feelings of the committee.”

Mr. Lane said there is a timeline for all of this to be “hashed out.” If the town is to proceed with the installation of water meters it must be completed by December 2014 (under the grant the town received for the project).

“My hope tonight is that each councillor will put forward their thoughts on the issue,” said Mr. Lane. He said that in going through the submissions from the public since the public meeting, “I prioritized what I felt were the main points made by the public (through the public meeting and 22 letters since). These included the main concern that the water lines need to be fixed first, concerns with costs (that they will increase with meters) and how will the town’s share of the project ($92,000) be paid, as well as the true cost of the project.

“I think we have four options,” said Mr. Lane. “We could take a position—we held a public meeting and we could go ahead and make a decision; we could try to get more input by trying another survey with more facts and address the concerns raised; hold a formal referendum; or decide not to install the meters and see if we can use the money to look at making repairs to our infrastructure-system.”

Councillor Harry VanderWeerden stressed, “one thing I would like to make clear is that council has never discussed going ahead with meters until this meeting. We have only discussed this issue once at the committee level. Secondly, since the meeting we have only had 22 submissions from 400 users—we haven’t heard from all of the residents. How we get input from everyone I’m not sure, but we need to get everyone’s input.”

“This is the single hottest issue this council has had to deal with,” said councillor Jack Clark. “The proven democratic method in this type of case is to hold a referendum. I think surveys are nice, but there are very serious issues that have been raised and the best way to deal with this is a referendum. Secondly, I believe we did a poor job projecting the rates with having meters.” He suggested going to other municipalities and comparing rate increases when they went to a metered water rate.

Councillor Wes Bentley said, “I was a bit embarrassed to hear how much water we are dumping down the drain on purpose (with about 47 homes having to keep their water flowing during the winter to prevent lines from freezing). “This needs to be addressed—we can’t ask people to conserve water when that much water is being dumped out.” He questioned whether the funding being provided to the town to look at water meters and conservation might be changed to deal with that problem.

Mr. Lane pointed out there are new grants available to look at the entire water system infrastructure.

“I think the water line infrastructure needs to be fixed before we go near water meters,” said councillor Lou Addison. “We don’t know the exact cost of the meters and as is the case with every project, costs go up and there is only a certain amount of income in the area—seniors and young families are strapped financially already.”

Ken Blodgett (of the public works committee) said, “at the public meeting it was obvious there was a lot of doubt on the part of residents. A number of people challenged what they had been told. If a referendum was held tomorrow it would be an emotional vote. We need more homework done and answers to questions before looking at a referendum.”

“We definitely have to look at providing more information to the public before we can make an informed decision,” said councillor Betsy Clark, agreeing that a referendum should be held.

“One of the problems with a referendum is that it is not binding unless 50 percent of the voters turn out and cast a vote,” said Mr. Lane. “And based on our last election turnout we were hard pressed to get 50 percent of voters out.” He said if the survey option was looked at the issues that have been raised would need to be addressed.

“People want more information on what it will cost them in the long run,” stated Ms. Addison.

“Residents will need more information no matter what,” said Mr. Lane. “In some fashion we need to get more input, whether it is by survey, informally or through a referendum.” He said a generic rate structure for the lowest and highest water users needs to be done, but this is only an estimate at this time.

“It might be in our best interest to wait and see if we receive other comments and in the meantime, put together an information package with answers to the questions raised and a rate structure to send to every household, and depending on the results of that, if it is still inconclusive, we could consider holding a referendum,” suggested Mr. Lane, saying all this information should be accumulated by the end of the year so council can make a final decision.