April 19, 2018

Mixed messages on Erin wastewater cost sharing

Residents who will not get wastewater service for their homes continue to get conflicting messages about whether they will have to help pay for the system.
A document from consultant Ainley Group, posted in the wastewater section of the town website, erin.ca, attempts to summarize questions from the Feb. 2 public meeting.
One question says, “I do not live in the planned wastewater service areas. Will I have to pay any of the construction or operating costs for this system?”
The Ainley answer is, “No. You will not pay anything and will benefit from having a local facility to dispose of and treat septic tank waste.”
Town council has not taken a position on this, but Mayor Allan Alls has promoted the idea that all property owners should pay for construction. The eventual local share of construction costs (after grants are received) could be $20 million.
The mayor says there is some flexibility within the Municipal Act to potentially allocate construction costs to the whole tax base. At the April 24 council meeting, he said, “I’ve been beaten down, but there’s more to go.”
Ainley President Joe Mullan said his firm’s “assumption since day one” is to have construction costs paid exclusively by serviced residents, which is normal practice in Ontario. But he said, “It’s your right to change that.”
In an earlier interview, Alls emphasized that wastewater would bring economic benefits to the entire town.
“When the Town of Erin goes out to borrow $20 million, they don’t borrow it for only a small section of people who will pay that $20 million back. You can’t do it that way. That’s not how it works in democracy.”
He suggested the issue could “bring some people out of the woodwork to run for council”.
Asked how people might react if a high tax increase was needed to cover sewer construction costs, the mayor said, “I’ll get fired.”
The Ainley document says dividing $20 million equally among the 2,672 urban lots (residential, commercial, industrial and institutional) would mean an expense per property of $7,500. The exact formula has not been decided, since costs could be allocated by various factors such as property frontage. But it is clear that sharing the construction cost with rural residents (who are the majority), plus those in unserviced urban areas, would drastically lower the cost per household. 
Ainley says the construction cost could be paid as a lump sum by homeowners, or through a loan from the town, as part of the municipal tax bill. Hook-up will be mandatory in serviced areas.
The construction cost does not include the cost of individual hook-ups, which could range from $4,000 to $8,000. This would have to be paid privately by the homeowner, to a contractor that they would have to hire themselves.
Ainley has sent individual responses to residents who submitted questions following the Feb. 2 meeting. The firm is completing an Environmental Study Report, as the Environmental Assessment (EA) wraps up. It will be open to public comment from May 14 to June 14, and the EA results can be appealed to the Minister of the Environment, as a request for a Part II Order. 
The town will be reviewing its Official Plan to identify specific areas for new housing – a step that has been delayed for several years.
The phasing of wastewater construction could follow many different scenarios, depending on planning decisions and financing.
In one scenario created by Ainley, if adequate funding is received, construction of Phase One could begin in the second half of the next council term (2020-2022). 
About 60 per cent of the Phase One capacity could service existing residents, while 40 per cent could be allocated to new development, allowing the serviced urban population to grow from about 4,500 to 8,864.
Phase Two would be entirely for new growth, and could happen about 2028-2030, eventually boosting the urban population to 14,559.