M-T details cross-border negotiation history for residents
BY DENNY SCOTT
In order to give council members information to provide to ratepayers when faced with questions about cross-border servicing, Morris-Turnberry staff has provided information and a detailed history to councillors.
Compiled by Chief Administrative Officer Trevor Hallam, the information came in response to a letter received from North Huron staff and council members stating that no connections, even one like the Green family household connection, would be allowed. The Green family’s application was declined despite the family’s suggestion to keep the connection inactive until an agreement can be arranged.
Hallam presented a spreadsheet to council showing where the two municipalities agreed on issues and where they were further apart, saying the two councils agreed more than they disagreed.
“In a lot of ways, the two sides are closer than they first appear,” he said, though acknowledging significant differences in the two stances.
Both sides agree that Morris-Turnberry would pay for assigned capacity instead of how much water is actually used unlike other cross-border servicing agreements Hallam cited. Specifically, he pointed to Belgrave’s water system, a Morris-Turnberry-owned system that provides water to North Huron residents. However, how much capacity is to be assigned to each hook-up is still disputed. Morris-Turnberry started at 30 cubic metres per month while North Huron said 60 cubic metres. Morris-Turnberry eventually came to 45 cubic metres per month.
The two councils also agreed that shared infrastructure maintenance and replacement costs would be shared between the municipalities, while Morris-Turnberry would pay for any maintenance or replacement of infrastructure wholly within its borders.
One of the major sticking points, Hallam said, is that North Huron had requested a border adjustment, taking land from Morris-Turnberry as payment for allowing Morris-Turnberry ratepayers to connect to North Huron’s water systems.
Hallam explained that North Huron is asking for approximately 775 acres of land south and east of the intersection of County Roads 4 and 86, including the Richard W. LeVan Airport.
“Morris-Turnberry doesn’t agree,” he said, adding that Morris-Turnberry Council has held firm to its belief that the agreement should deal with water and sewer only, not adjusted borders or tax sharing.
Hallam said Morris-Turnberry is willing to participate in arbitration or mediation, but North Huron hasn’t agreed. Morris-Turnberry staff have also reached out to North Huron staff to pursue talks at the staff level, but North Huron has refused, according to Hallam.
“We are at a place where we have informed North Huron that their offer of the 60 cubic metres [per connection cost] and border adjustment to include 775 acres of land was not accepted,” Hallam said. “The explanation given is that [the border adjustment] is disproportionate to the amount of service exchanged.”
Councillor Jim Nelemans thanked Hallam for his timeline of events, saying council will be able to field questions from ratepayers now that the information is public.
Mayor Jamie Heffer made several strong statements regarding the ongoing negotiations, first starting by addressing the nature of municipal water and sewer systems. “Water and sewers are not a tax-based service,” he said. “They’re to be a user-pay system.”
Heffer also said Morris-Turnberry Council had requested that staff from both municipalities propose an agreement instead of the committee process.
“Once you take this out of staff jurisdiction, it seems to be a lot more difficult to move things ahead,” he said. “We have an agreement with Huron East for [services to properties bordering on Brussels] that was developed by staff. It works well. Our users pay 1.5 times the regular rate and there are no contributions or expectation of services or border adjustments.”
Heffer then addressed the Belgrave water system Hallam had used as an example.
“We ourselves own and manage a system in Belgrave that services 44 residential properties in North Huron,” he said. “All the customers on that system pay the same rate. It’s fully a user-pay system.”
Heffer went on to say that, unlike the agreement being proposed by North Huron, the Belgrave system doesn’t charge for unused capacity because it’s not a cost to the system.
“That agreement is up for renewal in 2025 and we haven’t felt there is a need to stray from that kind of agreement,” Heffer said. “It’s an agreement that deals with water usage there.”
Heffer then pointed out that lands just outside of Wingham in Lower Town, which is in Morris-Turnberry, are in a wellhead protection area for a well that serves North Huron.
Because of that, Heffer said, some Morris-Turnberry lands are limited in what they can install as far as wells and septic systems are installed.
“The legislation doesn’t compel North Huron to assume a corresponding responsibility so they protect their well,” Heffer said, indicating that those lands should be served by a well that may be preventing landowners from pursuing their own systems.
Finally, Heffer said he is sure that Morris-Turnberry Council members will be getting calls about the issue, and he is glad to have the information to fall back on when answering questions.
“The point is to enable us to make some correcting information,” he said, “and point ratepayers to our goal of trying to get a fair fee for the service we’re using in that North Huron system.”
Heffer commended council members on their behaviour thus far, saying it was good to be professional in approaching the negotiations. He said council should continue with that behaviour and attitude.
“We don’t want to do or say anything to divide our community,” he said. “We don’t want to say or do anything negative to North Huron…. Bear in mind, nobody wins if we tear apart and divide our community.”