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Anthony receives opposition to proposed use of reserves

'What I was hoping to do was put about three quarters of a million bucks into reserves. A huge amount, and use a small amount about $200,000 to reduce the cost of the water and waste water bill from the two range, down to the one' Councillor Mike Anthony,

The City of North Bay is responsible for over 16,000 water connections, with a budget of approximately 22 million dollars for water and waste water.

Councillor Mike Anthony has proposed a one percent increase for the operating budget.  

Anthony says last year saw an unexpected surplus of nearly one million dollars.

“We had a surplus of over $900,000. I really believe reserves are important. What I was hoping to do was put about three quarters of a million bucks into reserves. A huge amount, and use a small amount about $200,000 to reduce the cost of the water and waste water bill from the two range, down to the one,” said Anthony.

However, the consensus from his committee members was not to go that route.

“To me, I think putting three quarters of a million into reserves is pretty significant, and I would like to use $200,000 to give people a break. I understand my committee did not support it, but there are other councillors around the table and we’ll have to see where they fall. I understand it may not go through, and if that is the case, I will respect that, and we will move forward. But I do think it is worth putting forward for a decision.”

Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch is in agreement with the committee members.

“Based on the operating budget proposed by Councillor Anthony, he’s looking at a 1.03 percent increase in the operating side. For the rates, it would show a decrease of 63 cents per month per household on the low end user side,” said Vrebosch.

“But using reserves to off-set your operating budget is not usually something that is recommended. It wasn’t recommended by staff Tuesday night, and it is also one of the reasons why we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble on the operating side. You’ll see when we start getting into our operating budget, all those years of the low one percents has caught up to us, and that is what we’re seeing here. The percent of 1.03 sounds nice, but eventually it could catch up to us later on.”

No changes are expected when it comes to fixed and variable rates.

“What was proposed was for the rates was to remain at the 50/50 level, so 50 percent fixed, 50 percent variable. When council passed it years ago, we had anticipated going to 60/40 at some point, but we’re not quite there yet,” said Vrebosch.

“We only have three years of data under our belt. We have the risk of the weather which affects consumption, and we have the risk of having such a low water reserve. Staff had recommended to remain at the 50/50 rate calculation for now, until we have a couple more years under our belt to look at our data consumption and also to increase our water reserves, because it only takes one bad summer, and a bad summer means a wet summer. It means people won’t consume as much. We had one of those two years ago, and we had a $300,000 deficit. Last year was a great summer for us because it was dry, so a lot of people used their water, so that helped us out a lot and we had all kinds of savings that helped put some money into the reserves.”

Anthony said his committee went over the water and waste water operating budget looking at the line items and different enhancements.

One of the enhancements was to hire a new water tech to help in areas where work is falling behind, at a cost of $81,000.

“City staff found a way to get that staff person covered at no new cost to the budget,” said Anthony.

“So instead of adding $81,000, they were able to rejig a few things. Right now, we have staff responding willy-nilly three or four days a week, plus we have to bring in outside help, and if we’re not going to get the person hired until July anyway, then this is basically no cost to the budget,” explained Anthony.

“The other good news for this new operating tech position, is that when they’re in place, it should be much more efficient. You’re spending less on outside services to come in and help. Much of the position could actually be covered from efficiencies, so that was a huge win I see for the taxpayer.”

The public was invited to provide input or ask questions about the water rates as a special meeting of council.

Anthony will learn the fate of his proposed operating budget on January 30th.