What a difference a year makes. A year ago our city councillors were wringing their collective hands over utility policy, or the lack thereof. One by one, councillors were asked if the delay in deciding the fate of utility rates was linked to an impending municipal election. Here’s what some councillors told the Gazette last October:
Mayor Nolan Crouse: “Because if it was going to affect the next council more than this council, I thought it was the next council’s decision … so I guess I’d call that political because there’s no administrative reason necessarily to not have proceeded.”
Coun. Wes Brodhead: “I wouldn’t say that was the sole motivation but when you’re, at the time, four months away from ending your terms, big decisions like that you don’t want to avoid them unnecessarily but if time is not of the essence and you have an opportunity to allow a new council to weigh in on that, that’s not such a bad plan either.”
Coun. Cam MacKay, who told the Gazette the delay might have been in part political, but it also allows councillors more time to understand a complex matter: “We’ve got a problem and our problem is we have to build a really expensive pump house in a short period of time. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to move away from this pay now model.”
Most of the councillors did a lot of bobbing and weaving – even Muhammad Ali would have had a hard time cornering them. The only councillor who was prepared to make a decision on utilities was Cathy Heron: “I was … extremely disappointed that we did not move forward on it. I don’t know if it was a political move by some to postpone it so it didn’t become an election issue, but the day that we talked about it I was ready to have a good debate and discussion and make some decisions.”
In April, 2013, the standing committee on finance directed administration to draft the budget with a 6.5 per cent utility rate increase, even though council possessed information that told it the rates would have to increase by 9.5 per cent if the utility model was to be sustainable. The newly-elected council rubberstamped the recommendation last December. The end result? Next year’s utilities are projected to have a supplemental capital fee of $23.55 per month tagged on to it, and by 2020 the fee is projected to increase to $26.75.
The previous council obviously saw the utility policy storm brewing long before the election year, otherwise it wouldn’t have hired a consultant to study the utility model. The study concluded the city stop using the MSI (a provincial government grant) in utility planning and recommended the city consider taking on debt for growth projects – a subject we believe needs a community-wide discussion.
The previous council chose political expediency over prudent utility planning. Councillors didn’t want to deal with a large rate increase going into an election year. So what to do now? We all know that council will be cutting back the administration’s proposed 3.42 per cent tax increase for 2015. That game gets played every year. Will this council cut even deeper to offset the utility bill increase?