Cornwall Council passes water meter implementation strategy in close vote

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By Nick Seebruch
Cornwall Council passes water meter implementation strategy in close vote
A faucet.

CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall City Council met on Tuesday, Sept. 21, to receive an update on a proposal from city administration to install water meters for all users in Cornwall. In a close vote of five-to-four, Council passed a measure that would begin the process to add water meters to all homes and businesses.

A presentation made to Council by consulting firm Watson & Associates outlined the advantages of a water meter system.

Main advantages in the presentation included users only paying for what they use, as well as encouraging water conservation, and purportedly, lower water bills for most residential users in the long term.

Watson & Associates gave the example of how a user who consumes 700 cubic meters of water would pay $4,770 less than under the current system.

Once all water meters are installed, the City will change the funding model for Cornwall’s water and waste water system. Under the new system that was passed on Tuesday, when implemented, a residential home will have a base charge to pay every month, as well as a per-cubic meter charge based on amount of water consumed, and finally, an annual charge for seven years to cover the cost of the water meter. For multi-residential units, property owners would be charged three-quarters of the base charge per-unit in addition to the water consumption charge an the annual charge for the meter.

Administration also pointed out, that besides Timmins, ON, Cornwall was the only municipality of its size to not use water meters.

Paying for this new system was a concern raised by Councillor Claude McIntosh, who said that the city would borrow money to pay for the installation of the new system at a cost of $21 million.

In their presentation, Watson & Associates claimed that the cost of installation would be offset by the City reducing its usage of water, and also being better able to identify leaks in the system thanks to the meters.

According to Watson & Associates, the City would save $300,000 per year by using less water, and $70,000 per year by being able to identify leaks more quickly.

“I don’t trust the consultant’s numbers,” McIntosh said, who pointed out that with the money being borrowed, the City would be dependent on interest rates remaining low. “I compare that to economists who try to predict what will happen 10 years into the future.”

McIntosh pointed out that the tax increase that was passed with the most recent municipal budget saw most of the increase go towards servicing municipal debt.

He was also unconvinced that any municipality that has water meters actually saw a drop in water usage, and that if they did, they would have seen a loss in revenue.

“Selling water is one of the only things that the city does that makes money,” he said. “I thought the presentation was very slanted towards meters.”

Mayor Glen Grant, who voted in favour of introducing a water meter system, said that this was a logical step for the municipality.

“Hopefully in the long run we can eventually save some money on this,” he said. “Besides that, you have an environmental responsibility.”

Grant also pointed out that this was about fairness, and that some residential users, who do not use a lot of water, are subsidizing other users who do as they both pay the same rate under the current system.

“A lot of people who come into our community feel that the billing system doesn’t make sense,” he said.

In addition to Mayor Grant, councillors Elaine MacDonald, Carilyne Hébert, Justin Towndale, and Dean Hollingsworth voted in favour of introducing water meters and councillors Claude McIntosh, Denis Carr, Syd Gardiner, and Eric Bergeron voted against. Councillors Todd Bennett and Maurice Dupelle were not present for Tuesday’s meeting.

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