Sewer franchise agreement draws a variety of responses

At the District of Sooke Committee of the Whole meeting on May 9, council discussed the Wastewater Franchise Agreement. Council passed a motion to recommend approval of the agreement with EPCOR. The recommendation was opposed by Councillors Bev Berger and Herb Haldane.

Berger questioned why there was a current deficit and CAO Evan Parliament stated, “There is a deficit because revenues do not match expenditures.” He went on to explain that the deficit, over $300,000, was because it was a new utility and in the first five years it was common to run a deficit. He said the biggest reason was the sewer generation charge that would come from SD#62, (for Journey Middle School and Ecole Poirier). He said other revenues were not generated and it has “nothing to do with EPCOR.”

In February council passed a bylaw which saw SD#62 pay for sewer usage based on actual flow bringing the annual cost down to $18,717 from $30,600 for the two schools.

Haldane questioned a section of the Community Charter and the provision of service by EPCOR.

Rick Kasper, who was a councillor when the first agreement was struck with EPCOR, stated he felt the costs incurred were not the costs people were told they would pay. He questioned the numbers and the certainty of the costs.

“There are too many questions to consider locking us into a 21-year agreement,” he said. “You said there would be a deficit only for the first three years, something is terribly wrong, terribly wrong… you’ve been making decisions in the dark,” he said to council.

He said all of the taxpayers are responsible whether they were on the sewer system or not.

“I am personally upset with the process and the lack thereof of information,” said Kasper.

Mayor Janet Evans stated all councillors had access to the documents and it was up to them to review them.

The issue of a union running the sewer system was also brought up and why it couldn’t be operated in-house.

Councillor Maja Tait said they could work towards a district-owned facility.

Wendal Milne, who has announced his run for the mayor’s chair, said he was fundamentally opposed to the 21-year agreement. He would prefer council went for a five-year deal with options. The reason he was opposed, he said, was because it was a sole-sourced contract.

He said council had a moral and fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers for getting them the best bang for their buck.

“I can’t understand a contract this big, this long and no bids,” said Milne.

He said there was nothing wrong with council taking a second look and making the agreement shorter than 21 years and going to tender.

“You need competition when you are talking money of this magnitude.”

Others questioned why EPCOR was paying a $500,000 concession fee, since they (EPCOR) were exclusive.

Parliament stated that it was common to ask for a concession fee and it was negotiated by both parties. He said at the end of the 21 years they wanted all debt paid.

Ellen Lewers said the entire system should be checked before an agreement was signed. Mayor Evans answered by saying that council voted against checking the system.

Moonfist said his heart and mind tell him 21 years is a good number, and David Mallett congratulated council and staff on the 21-year agreement.

No one spoke of any ill will towards EPCOR or of any concerns with their operation and management of the wastewater treatment system.

Parliament said over the last two years they had attended 15-20 meetings with EPCOR and they had been working on six month and one-year extensions.

In January, 2011 a third extension of the contract (Jan. 1 to June 30, 2011) was signed with the basic annual operating cost pegged at $646,180 an increase of $44,370 from 2010. This would be pro-rated.

The 21-year agreement would see the pro-rated operations fee for 2011 set at $924,752.

Council recommended Bylaw No. 494, Wastewater Franchise Agreement Approval Bylaw, 2011 be given first and second reading; that staff proceed with an Alternate Approval Process; and that Monday, June 27, 2011 at 9 a.m. as the deadline for receiving elector responses. The total number of responses to defeat the agreement was questioned and the accurate number of responses required to defeat the bylaw would be 886 (10 per cent of the eligible electors).

A Public Information Session for the bylaw will be held on May 25.

If the Alternate Approval Process results in rejection of the agreement, the issue will go to referendum.