by Shaun McLaughlin
first published in the Shaun on Council blog
After 18 months on Council, I finally achieved a significant policy success, thanks to the support of five councillors representing all three wards.
During my election campaign, my platform included these three goals:
- fair and equal treatment of all wards in decisions of Council
- sharing of hydro revenues
- some relief from the planned septage tax
I also stated that I did not like the often acrimonious rural-urban split on Council and would try to bridge that divide.
Earlier this year, I realized that all four of these goals could be advanced simultaneously, with hydro revenue sharing being the keystone.
Until now, 100% of money from our hydro assets (about $300,000 annually) helped fund water and sewage infrastructure. That arrangement benefitted Almonte ward exclusively.
After discussing the issue in seven meetings over 13 months, a new by-law came forward at Council June 26, 2012. It proposed to direct 20% of hydro revenues in 2012 and 30% in 2013 to areas not related to water and sewer, such as reserves or general capital costs. (Based on population, that plan meant 40% of the benefit would accrue back to Almonte ward.) Almonte councillors objected to the 30% figure because it meant higher water bills, but they could live with an 80-20 split for now.
For months I had argued that the shared hydro revenues should be applied to the septage plant's costs for the first two years. My reasoning was this:
The hydro revenues will subsidize about 15% of the capital cost of the sewage portion of the waste water treatment plant (WWTP), benefitting Almonte ward. Fairness requires that the septage portion of the WWTP be subsidized equally for the rural wards.
The business plan for the septage plant is fiction, as I have explained before, and rural taxpayers faced annual levies to keep it operating.
On June 26, I moved the following amendment to the by-law:
In 2012, 80% of hydro revenues be directed to water and sewer related expenditures and 20% to the capital cost of the septage treatment plant.
In 2013, 80% of hydro revenues be directed to water and sewer related expenditures, and 20% to be put in a reserve fund, and that fund be used to cover operating costs of the septage treatment plant in years when tipping fees do not cover all operating costs.
The 20% will yield $55,000-60,000 annually in a normal year. (Pray for rain.) We will revisit hydro revenue sharing at the end of 2013.
When the recorded vote was tallied, my motion won with the support of Councillors Duncan Abbott, Bernard Cameron, Garry Dalgity, Alex Gillis, and Paul Watters.
While I am pleased that my months of work paid off, my joy is tempered by the fact that other councillors strongly objected to the amendment. While support was broad—reps of all wards backed it—support was shallow. A six-five split is divisive. So, while this issue built bridges to urban councillors, it alienated some of my rural colleagues. So, I score myself three out of four on this issue.
They say the journey is often more interesting than the destination. This protracted debate taught me much about the slings and arrows of outrageous politics. I will soon chronicle the long road to hydro revenue sharing and the lessons learned. Stay tuned.