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Funding could be at risk for water projects

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Approximately $5 million of funding from senior levels of government for municipal water and wastewater projects could be at risk due to timing issues.

Last year, the federal government approved 15 regional projects under the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) totalling $44 million.

Through the CWWF, the feds will cover 50 per cent of funding for these projects, while the province and region contribute the rest.

However, according to the region’s 2018 water and sanitary sewage servicing and financing study, staff estimate up to $5.1 million in funding, $3.4 million federal and $1.7 million provincial, is at “moderate risk” of falling by the wayside if projects are not completed on time.

But John Presta, director of environmental services said the region has “full intent to proceed with all the projects”, while noting they are facing some very tight deadlines.

“As we’ve seen…sometimes there are road bumps that happen. We are hoping to get some leeway from the provincial and federal governments,” Presta says.

Should the projects be incomplete by the March 31, 2018 and March 31, 2019 deadlines, the region would have to fully fund the outstanding $5.1 million on top of its original contribution of $11 million.

The study also laid out planned capital spending for water and sanitary sewer projects next year, with staff recommending $164 million in spending.

The $164 million consists of $115 million for water projects and $49 million for sanitary sewer projects.

According to the study, the projects will be funded through user rates (including a four per cent increase for next year), $42.2 million in development charges, $11.4 million in reserve funds, $13.1 million in funding from York Region for its share of the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant, and $16.8 million in contributions from the Seaton Landowners Group.

Durham Region will also be taking on $17.6 million in debenture funding for the replacement of the Newcastle Water Supply Plant, which has an overall price tag of $44 million.

The study estimates the region will need to spend approximately $2.3 billion on water and sanitary sewage facilities through 2027, including plant expansions and new infrastructure to “accommodate growth and significant investments to address critical rehabilitation and replacement needs.”

To achieve this, the region will need to take on $346.6 million in additional debt financing. This will require rate increases of approximately five to seven per cent each year until 2027.

The average increase in water and sewer rates between 2008 and 2017 has been 6.4 per cent.

Also for 2018, staff are recommending harsher penalties for individuals or companies convicted of violations related to the unlawful operation of regional hydrants and water theft.

The region has had more than 40 such convictions in the past five years.

The current fine for such a violation is $5,000, but fines may increase to up $10,000 for an individual’s first offence and up to $25,000 for following offences.

Corporations would face up to $50,000 for a first offence and $100,000 for any following offences.

Hydrant permits are issued by the region, however, the hydrants are unmetered.

This can lead to unauthorized use, or users failing to accurately report how much water they took from the hydrant.

Clarington Councillor Joe Neal harshly criticized the current system.

“People are filling up water trucks based on the honour system,” Neal stated.