BARRY’S BAY – The residents of the Madawaska Valley (MV) showed their viewpoint when it came to the water and waste water taxation.
Hundreds of protestors could be seen outside the municipal office on January 7, during a regular council meeting.
With only 48 permitted in the council chambers, many of those who attended were forced to stand outside in the bitter cold and wind.
In order for them to properly understand what was being said, a sound system was in place with speakers set up outside.
Inside the chambers, the chanting of “No way, we won’t pay” could be heard.
A sign was place against the glass window of the chambers, saying “septage tax stinks”.
Three delegations occurred, each presenting the issues behind the water and waste taxation.
THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
Andy Boyd was the first to present on behalf of The Citizens Action Committee for the Township of Madawaska Valley.
“I am here today representing hundreds of people from Madawaska Valley,” he stated. “There has been such a void in communication that the public has great concerns over this issue. There are negative perceptions because of this.”
According to Boyd, this is not an issue concerning rural versus city, but an issue surrounding the spreading of the costs, and future costs, of the water and waste/water system.
“We are strongly against it,” Boyd stated. “If there is funding, or hardship issues, we want to see the users assisted through the provincial grants, or possibly the $750,000 of the $4.2 million held in reserve funding, which is partially dedicated to water waste issues.”
Boyd then stated that council is currently attacking one of the many bylaws put in place during the amalgamation of the Madawaska Valley Township.
“Barry’s Bay only represents approximately 18 per cent of the Madawaska Valley Township tax base. We contribute strongly from all areas to its infrastructure,” Boyd continued.
“This is such an impact that comes from this issue it has created very negative perceptions. That it was going quietly through during the holiday season.”
Boyd continued to say that the people are aware of council’s good intentions; however they do not support this tax issue.
Another concern brought forward by Boyd was the lack of summer residents able to be attend the meeting.
“Our community is strongly funded by summer residents, who are not here,” he explained. “Are these summer people to arrive next summer to discover they are now paying for more services they do not use?”
Boyd then described how the average monthly cost for water/sewer use for someone living in town can vary from $100 to $150, while a rural household will pay approximately $162.
This was shown through the calculation of taking the amount required to spend in order to put in a water and sewage system, as well as repairs for these systems. The cost comes to approximately $39,000, not including the cost of powering the septic system, he indicated.
“We do sympathize with the costs of the 660 who are on the system, but as you can see, we pay the same or more in rural costs for our systems,” Boyd explained, adding that those who live in the rural areas are also more at risk for needing expensive repairs.
Boyd read a letter written by Kim Love, a former amalgamation councillor.
The letter stated that the original plant was built in 1974, and was estimated to cost approximately $3.3 million.After much needed funding from the federal and provincial government, the users of these systems still owed an estimated $330,000.
In 2003, the amount for these systems owing was approximately $337,850 for the water and sewage plant.
According to Love, this proves that the rate the users were paying for those 29 years were insufficient in paying off the debt still owing.
The plant was then renovated, with an estimated cost of $7.5 million. The federal and provincial government once again funded the project, contributing $2.66 million, which was to be matched by the users’ contribution of $1.33 million under the funding agreement.
Love then described the further funding received, which totalled $5 million.
This funding was given with “no strings attached” and has been used by council for these projects.
“These 660 users (households and businesses) have therefore received over $9.3 million in government grants, averaging $14,090 per user, to cover recent capital expenditures needed for these systems,” Love’s letter stated.
“Since these grants are funded by our federal and provincial tax dollars (income tax, user fees, etc.), we the taxpayers have already paid the lion’s share of all capital expenditures for these systems to date,” it continued.
Love described the December 12, water, wastewater and waste management meeting, and the recommendation of removing approximately $235,214 from the annual budget for water and waste water, and placing them in the general taxation base.
“This will shift responsibility for these costs away from users of these systems and onto ratepayers,” the letter continued. “How do any of these councillors justify this move as conforming with the wishes of the majority of ratepayers? This is taxation without representation!”
Boyd finished his speech by stating that there has been an obvious breakdown in communication between the general public and council, and that the people are requesting that council dissolve the current water, waste water, and waste management committee and that it be restructured.
“The idea that 85 per cent of the tax paying public should pay for the costs and future costs of a service that is used by 15 per cent of the population is wrong,” he said, explaining that this process is not used anywhere else in the province of Ontario, and that to change the bylaw council is required to first give 21 days written notice and hold a public meeting.
Boyd stated that the public wishes to be involved in a public information meeting, which should be held during the summer months so that the summer residents can be present.
Boyd then showed council a stack of papers signed by the people who all disagree with the taxation.
Approximately 800 signed letters were given to the mayor and were placed on the table before council.
Council was then granted permission to ask Boyd questions concerning his speech.
“It is great to see the citizens being involved in here,” Mayor David Shulist said. “Maybe we should have a public part of that committee. We will probably be more involved then with the public.”
Councillor Shaun O’Reilly then asked Boyd whether or not he had spoken with any elected officials, or the CAO, concerning the information used in his report.
Boyd responded no.
O’Reilly then asked for permission to allow all delegations to present, and then he himself being allowed time to explain the issues surrounding the water, waste water and waste management.
The next delegation was presented by Carl Bromwich, who was also in attendance to discuss the proposed fee issue.
Bromwich stated that council is supposed to represent the people.
“A municipality doesn’t exist without people,” he said. “The role of council is to consider the well being and interests of the people.”
“Transparency doesn’t exist in this council, at this time,” Bromwich said, adding that people were standing outside in the cold so they could show their concerns surrounding this issue.
He continued to describe how important water is to those who live in rural areas.
“Without water there is no life,” he said, continuing to explain how this seems like an attack on property rights.
“We are being taxed to death here, we have reached a breaking point,” Bromwich added. “This item that has just come up is probably the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.”
“It’s not so much what is going on behind the scenes here, this is the realist of what you people are doing to us right now. You better take a second thought here,” he said, adding that if this issue follows through, it will turn unpleasant.
Bromwich then suggested that they hold off on the issue, and give themselves time to describe the reasoning behind the subject.
“I can guarantee you, if you do jam this thing through; your political careers are over,” he finished.
Caroline Babinski was next to speak on behalf of the public of MV.
Her question to council was concerning what those who live in rural areas get for the rise in taxes.
“The answer is not a whole lot,” she said.
Story continues in the January 9, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.