Cornwall waterworks budget passes with 4.07% increase

Cornwall CFO Tracey Bailey and Infrastructure General Manager John St. Marseille get ready to present the 2019 water and sewer budget to Cornwall City Council on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. The budget has passed with a 4.07 per cent increase or an extra $30 a year on average for a residential customer. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – In its first meeting and by a unanimous vote, Cornwall City Council has approved the 2019 waterworks budget with a 4.07 per cent increase.

After two hours to discussing it Thursday afternoon, Coun. Dean Hollingsworth, supported by Coun. Carilyne Hebert, moved to approve the water and wastewater budget as is.

Many councillors spoke about striking a balance between following the city’s long term financial plan while trying to be fair to the ratepayer, especially after the 6.25 per cent increase in 2018.

For the average homeowner, the 4.07 per cent will mean an extra $31 next year. Some homeowners will be a little more or less, depending on the number of bathrooms and outside taps they have and whether they have a swimming pool.

The cost of operating the water and sewage treatment plants is more or less flat at around $12 million. The reserve accounts for both divisions are described as “healthy.” Most of the increase will pay for $748,000 more in work to repair or replace water and sewer pipes ($6.2 million in 2019 compared to $5.5 million in 2018).

“Could we invest more and do better? We always could but we have to strike a balance on those requirements,” Infrastructure General Manager John St. Marseille told council. He suggested that maybe a one per cent dedicated levy to capital works could be explored in the future.

Coun. Dean Hollingsworth said that “in a perfect world” it would be zero per cent but it is an essential service and work needs to be done on water mains, some of which are 100 years old. “The question I say to people I know is, do you want to flush your toilets or not? You’ve got to keep the place running.”

Coun. Carilyne Hebert was concerned about the multi-million dollar backlog. “Backlog is something we’ve talked about for quite a few years now,” she said. “If we cut this budget any more than it is, we won’t be addressing that backlog.” There’s a $38 million backlog in repairs and maintenance to water mains and $7 million in sewer pipes.

“We’re barely keeping up,” Coun. Claude McIntosh remarked, while agreeing with the increase. He said the city wasn’t doing itself any favours by bringing in sub-inflationary increases in the past. “We’re starting to pay for that. If anybody thinks that four per cent is too high, I’d like to know what they’re going to cut.”

“I can sleep at night knowing that we’re putting infrastructure in place, maintaining, upgrading, et cetera, and it’s going to be a benefit to all the residents of the community,” Coun. Glen Grant added.

“This is arguably our most critical service to the community,” Mayor Bernadette Clement said before council agreed unanimously.