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Lengthy debate flows from responsibility over water utilities

Town of Barrhead councillor takes issue with BRWC negotiation being marked as completed
Rod Klumph Sept 13
Town of Barrhead Coun. Rod Klumph suggested during council's Sept. 13 meeting that the Barrhead Regional Water Commission was not contributing enough financially to the water and sewer infrastructure the town provides.

BARRHEAD – The job is not complete. 

At least that is the opinion of Town of Barrhead councillor Rod Klumph, who took exception during the Sept. 13 council meeting that administration had marked the municipality’s work with the Barrhead Regional Water Commission (BRWC) to pay for a more equitable portion of the costs for future sewer operating expenses and capital expenditures as being completed in the council action list. 

He said that according to the Utility Rate View and Cost of Service Study (authored by David Campbell) that the town commissioned in 2021, the municipality is subsidizing the BRWC by not charging them for the wastewater they discharge into the town's sewer system. 

Council commissioned the $31,630 report because of concern the town's water and sewer rates did not accurately reflect the costs involved in providing the service. 

"One of the main recommendations (Campbell makes) is to start invoicing the commission for water and sewer services provided by the town to stop the subsidization of the BRWC and its customers, especially those located in the county," Klumph said. 

The BRWC is an independent body that owns the region's water infrastructure, including pipelines and the water treatment plant. The commission sells the water to the municipalities. They, in turn, sell it to their residents. Their board has six members, including two councillors from both municipalities and two members at large. 

Klumph added that the province's Public Utilities Act prohibits public utilities from preferential rates. 

"As I see it, Barrhead's utility system has an unduly, preferential joint rate in favour of county customers," he said. "That has to be rectified. Until it is, (the item) has to be marked as a work in progress." 

Klumph added that the report states that 10 per cent of the BRWC's "production values" goes to county customers and that its water treatment plant is responsible for 30 per cent of the volume going into the town's wastewater infrastructure. 

"Charging the commission for wastewater would result in lower costs being paid for by the town's wastewater customers," he said. 

Klumph noted the report suggests the county is receiving a subsidy of about $12,000 annually, which works out to be about $300 per resident. 

"If town residents demanded the same treatment county residents receive, it would mean that the town would have to give each one of its residents or customers $300, which amounts to $600,000." 

Chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc said he has had negotiations with the BRWC and will continue to do so, but they have not fully yielded the desired results. 

"It is hard to dance with someone that doesn't want to," he said. "But they have outlined that through their past financial contributions (of $500,000 mostly for capital upgrades), they are willing to entertain future asks, all in good faith." 

Later in the meeting, councillors, through a motion by Klumph, approved the council action list as presented with the amendment that the municipality continues to work towards what they feel is a more equitable agreement with the BRWC to pay for future costs, including operating and capital, of the community's sewer system. 

At the Dec. 14, 2021, council meeting, councillors instructed administration to work with the BRWC to come up with an agreement that pays the Town of Barrhead for future operational and capital expenses for the water and sewage service and infrastructure. 

Klumph then asked LeBlanc whether he used Campbell's report as a basis in his negotiations with the commission. 

LeBlanc replied that he used the town's financial data, which mirrors Campbell's report. 

Klumph said the municipality or town residents might not mind subsidizing their county cousins. However, by doing so, their efforts were going "further and further afield". 

"There are some Lac Ste. Anne residents on our system and are being subsidized by our residents," he said. "I was elected to protect the people of the Town of Barrhead ... and this is unjust." 

LeBlanc replied that contributions from BRWC will be included in the 2023 capital budget. 

"As for the operational side, the town has an agreement with the BRWC, and the operating expenses will also be incorporated into the commission's 2023 operating budget. They will be paying their fair share," he said.  

LeBlanc used the example of BRWC now paying a percentage of the costs to run the town's lift station, which previously wasn't the case. 

"They should be responsible for a lot more," interrupted Klumph. "Mr. Campbell has identified several other items, including administration, that town is providing that should be included in the costs transferred to the commission and other users.  

"And when you talk to (the BRWC), take Campbell's report with you and see how they can justify not paying for their fair share," he said. "They are a utility just like we are, and if they compared their system and have to follow the same rules. If they looked at their system to ours, they would see they are offside in terms of the Public Utility Act." 

Coun. Don Smith (who is the town's BRWC representative along with mayor Dave McKenzie) interjected that at the commission's April 21, 2022 meeting, it wasn't a "hard no", noting they would deal with each ask on a case-by-case basis. 

LeBlanc also reiterated that discussions with the commission are ongoing, saying it wasn't his intention not to continue to pursue the matter. 

"Council asked me to negotiate an agreement. The commission said no, but that does not prevent the town from asking for a contribution from the commission in its 2023 budget for capital or operational items," he said. 

McKenzie suggested that Klumph did not fully understand the relationship between the commission and its customers, recommending that he "sit down" with LeBlanc to go through all the intricacies, adding he wasn't sure that Campbell fully understood the relationship. 

"Don't disparage my intelligence or understanding of the situation," Klumph replied. 

McKenzie responded, "Don't disparage staff either." 


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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