Morris-Turnberry Council responds to cross-border proposal
BY DENNY SCOTT
Morris-Turnberry Council spent a significant amount of time reviewing North Huron’s proposed cross-border servicing bylaw and found the document lacking in a number of ways, eventually deciding to have staff try to connect with North Huron staff on the issue.
During Morris-Turnberry Council’s June 21 meeting, staff presented legal and staff reviews of the bylaw, both of which found a number of problems ranging from drafting concerns, or problems with the way the bylaw was written, to issues that Morris-Turnberry Council members had previously stated should not be in the document at all.
In total, the 10-page bylaw generated eight pages of notes from Morris-Turnberry’s legal representation and dozens of Morris-Turnberry staff remarks made throughout the document.
Morris-Turnberry staff said council could approve the bylaw as-is, like North Huron already had, send the document to staff for review or accept the bylaw’s intent, but have staff re-engage North Huron to make corrections to drafting and legal errors.
Council went through the document clause by clause, recognizing which issues were simple draft concerns and which needed to be addressed, starting with the first paragraph of the document, which includes a capacity agreement. North Huron’s proposal to charge for capacity instead of use has been a contentious issue, according to council, since the previous bylaw timed out four years ago.
Chief Administrative Officer Trevor Hallam worked through the document with council, stating that North Huron had a desire to go to a model in which Morris-Turnberry is paying for the capacity it may use instead of paying for use. Previously, most Morris-Turnberry users paid for use at 1.5 times the cost of North Huron users.
“That has a financial impact on ratepayers,” he said. “Councill will have to decide how to split up [the charge for] 50 cubic metres a day, when, collectively, [existing users are] using eight cubic metres a day,” Hallam said.
He explained that, originally, North Huron had proposed 160 cubic metres, or 30 cubic metres if Morris-Turnberry accepted North Huron annexing the lands around the former municipal airport. After that proposal fell through, North Huron landed on 50 cubic metres.
Mayor Jamie Heffer said the idea of paying for potential instead of usage has been an issue, and asked Hallam if similar agreements are used elsewhere, Hallam said he wasn’t aware of others, and said that users of Belgrave’s water system, which is owned by Morris-Turnberry and shared, through cross-border servicing, by North Huron ratepayers, aren’t metered, with both North Huron and Morris-Turnberry users paying the same flat rate. He went on to say that other agreements North Huron recently renewed are not based on capacity either.
Heffer asked what kind of financial impact the move would have, and Hallam said that was up to council. Councillors could decide how to split the charges, but if it were evenly spread across all users, the average user would see a 61 per cent increase in water and/or wastewater costs.
Deputy-Mayor Sharen Zinn asked if the 20-year period proposed was normal, and Hallam said it is if the agreement is fair to both sides.
Some council members questioned why North Huron had included Blyth as a potential site for cross-border servicing, though Hallam said it makes sense if the agreement is in place for 20 years.
Throughout the document, Hallam pointed out that many phrases were used without being properly defined, which he said is common in these kinds of documents. He also said that some terms are used interchangeably with similar terms, which could cause confusion.
Council members also pointed out several concerns with wording that Hallam highlighted for future changes.
Councillors, including Councillor Jim Nelemans, also wanted references to Braemar Nursing Home and the Willis farm development removed from the document because both had outstanding agreements. The former, which is located in Morris-Turnberry, has an agreement for water and sewer directly from North Huron, while the latter is under an agreement between North Huron and Morris-Turnberry. Several councillors voiced strong opposition to them being included in any final agreement between the two municipalities.
Hallam also pointed out that North Huron was conflicting with its own wishes, as North Huron had wanted to avoid the inclusion of specific properties in the document. The inclusion of properties belonging to Wescast Inc. were also contradictory to that desire.
Council members also had issues with the fact that, if either municipality decided the capacity needed to be changed, it could only be done through a $50,000 penalty, which Councillor Jamie McCallum called “a slap in the face”.
Hallam also identified issues with the document, specifically where North Huron wanted Morris-Turnberry to agree to being responsible for maintenance and repair of infrastructure in its municipality, but didn’t provide reporting back on the health of the existing system. North Huron also stated that, as part of outlining how major projects would be funded (with funds from both municipalities), Morris-Turnberry would be responsible for percentage costs on new infrastructure. The implication led Councillor Kevin Freiburger to ask if Morris-Turnberry would then be on the hook for a proposed water tower that North Huron has been pursuing for some time. Hallam said he didn’t know, but it would depend on the timing of the bylaw.
After the discussion, Heffer said that Hallam’s description of several of the clauses as “unconventional” could have been applied to the whole document.
Nelemans agreed, saying it was likely an incredibly complicated document for a simple water system that currently services 19 properties and, at most, could service 33 properties according to staff.
Freiburger asked if North Huron had the document reviewed legally, saying that, if the municipality had, it was surprising that Morris-Turnberry’s own legal team provided an eight-page review.
“There was a failure somewhere,” he said.
Zinn said that, after four years of staff time, she felt the two municipalities had come up with “nothing”.
“They’ve made this a final agreement,” she said. “They hand delivered it… I don’t see where they would go much further.
“It’s a total embarrassment for [North Huron to force Morris-Turnberry Council] to ask for 61 per cent more for an essential service,” she said. “I don’t see where we can go any further with this. I think we’ve wasted four years trying to [finalize an agreement].
Nelemans agreed, saying that 61 per cent is not fair, especially since Morris-Turnberry charges North Huron users in Belgrave the same amount it charges its own residents. He also didn’t like how the agreement was viewed as a final one without any kind of discussion between the municipalities.
McCallum said that, if this was the agreement North Huron proposed, then Morris-Turnberry would have to consider a similar policy in Belgrave when it came time to review the cross-border servicing Morris-Turnberry provides to North Huron residents. He also said the agreement represented a “waste of four years.”
Nelemans called the bylaw and the four-year process to arrive at it “childish”.
“The agreement was working before, and it seems like they’re using this agreement to stab us over something else,” he said.
Heffer said he hoped that reviewing the entire document would add some understanding to the public, as he doesn’t want ratepayers thinking Morris-Turnberry is being argumentative.
“The community doesn’t understand why we can’t come to an agreement,” he said. “I hope, with what this presents, we can help people understand. We’re not just saying no because we like saying no. We’re saying no because we can’t say yes to what’s being asked of us.”
McCallum said council members owe it to themselves and the ratepayers they represent to see if staff can try and work on the issue further, but, if the municipality gets a “flat no”, at least council will know where it stands.
Finally, council directed staff to re-engage North Huron staff and continue discussions on the outstanding concerns regarding the substance of the agreement and to suggest corrections to the drafting errors.