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OPINION: The costs will keep flowing

By Nick Seebruch

Published on December 14, 2018

A faucet.

If I told you that you could either pay me $500 today or $1,500 at some point down the road which would you choose? I know I’d choose to save $1,000. Now what if I also added the caveat that not only would you have to pay me $1,500 at some point in the future, but also on that day you won’t have running water? Or maybe even access to your street? How would you feel?

This is basically the conundrum that Cornwall’s new City Council was facing with their water budget.

Administration was asking for an increase to the Water and Waste Water budget of 4.07 percent or $25.25 to $36 per household. Part of this budget increase is to help replace or re-line aging watermains in Cornwall. The budget passed unanimously.

Administration is planning to re-line or replace around 2km of watermains in 2019, this is out of 68km that they have identified as needing to be addressed. In total, there is a $38 million backlog in maintenance in just watermain infrastructure.

John St. Marseille, the City’s General Manager of Municipal Works and Infrastructure said that this backlog was the result of “historic underspending”, a notion that council seemed to agree with.

St. Marseille told council that every time a watermain breaks, it costs the City three times more to repair that it would have cost just to replace or re-line and that doesn’t even take into consideration the disruption of service to the taxpayers that comes with a break.

I saw quite a few comments criticizing the new council for making their first official decision a tax increase, but it was the right thing to do, and the responsible thing to do. If anything, they didn’t raise the budget enough.

There are some watermain pipes in this City that are over 100-years-old. Yes, the City is going to tackle two kilometers of their backlog in 2019, but is that enough? There is 280km of pipe total, and who’s to say that more pipe becomes obsolete in 2019. Are we taking a step forward and then two steps back?

It would be fiscally irresponsible to not maintain these old pipes and allow them to break. Previous councils who did not vote to allot enough money to adequately maintain our infrastructure were being fiscally irresponsible.

Not adequately raising taxes has cost Cornwall more money in the long run. That being said, I hope that our new Mayor and council do take into account the tax burden on the populace. They need to look at the financial plan, pick priorities, make sure money is being spent effectively and that taxes are levied fairly.

Seeing the great increase in cost that occurs when a watermain breaks, I would say that maintenance is a good investment of taxpayer money, but in order to avoid an exorbitant increase of burden on the taxpayers, the City may have to cut service somewhere else, at least for the time being.

What do you think readers? Are we spending enough on watermain maintenance? Are you happy with a tax increase if it saves the City money down the road? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nicholas.seebruch@tc.tc