Mayor: Cornwall waterworks 2018 budget will address infrastructure and ‘perception of the people’

In this April 2015, file photo, Cornwall Mayor Leslie O'Shaughnessy speaks at a hospital function. O'Shaughnessy says he and other councillors will need to be more aggressive with senior governments to get funding for the city's waterworks infrastructure. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy appeared content with his proposed 6.25 per cent increase in the water and sewer budget for 2018, which was passed by the full council, saying it strikes a balance.

But now the hunt will be on for senior government funding and other revenue sources in order to stave off a nearly double-digit projected increase in 2019.

The 2018 increase will add $37 to $52 a year on a homeowners’ water and sewer bill.

Dropping the budget from 7.65 to 6.25 per cent was achieved through stripping $234,000 from the budgeted water and sewer replacement on York Street from Fifth to Seventh. The two phase project was budgeted for $850,000 in 2018 and $850,000 in 2019. It should be noted that the second phase was already pushed back a year from 2018. Now the 2018 allocation will be less.

City staff told CNW the scope of work will change by doing the less costly engineering and design next year but no construction would take place until 2019.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch immediately following the meeting Monday night, O’Shaughnessy said he was looking for somewhere around 5 per cent at the beginning but then increased that to 6 per cent after having a talk with a councillor earlier in the day on Monday.

“Listening tonight, we do have that responsibility. We do have those obligations to our infrastructure. But then again a little too much at once. I think it sends a wrong message that we are going to raise it all these numbers without having an opportunity to increase revenues from different sources,” the mayor said, referring to the initial proposal of 7.65 per cent.

O’Shaughnessy says he’s “not naive” in “understanding the repercussions” for the next council if everything stays the same. If the current administration doesn’t get senior government funding, the next council could be facing a 9.5 per cent increase.

“I do not think that it will be 9.5 per cent next year. I do believe that we are going to be successful in generating some sorts of revenue. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

During the special council meeting, O’Shaughnessy suggested politicians – himself included – had been “lax” in finding senior government funding.

“Maybe we haven’t been aggressive enough in doing that, although we do it. What we do now is we meet with the ministers at conferences where you’re given 15 minutes and then you’re out the door. I think maybe we’re going to have to start taking our trips to Toronto, singling out the ministers, sitting down and talking to them and explaining our whole situation. You can’t do that in 15 minutes,” O’Shaughnessy told CNW.

“We’ve been hit with a lot of things, I’m not going to say are unique to Cornwall, but the numbers are – they’re quite high,” he said, saying one of those is the “real challenges” with municipal assessment.

The mayor also complimented city staff for the creation of the city’s 10 year plan, even though council hasn’t followed the recommendations right out of the gate.

“I just didn’t feel it was a fair enough balance to begin that 10 year process with an increase of 7.65 per cent.”

He said the overall increase to the taxpayer between 6.25 and 7.65 per cent is “not that great” but it’s “the perception of the people.”

The mayor also noted that the city has not cancelled any water capital projects for 2018 or 2019.

O’Shaughnessy was adamant his proposal had no political motive heading into an election year.