By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Two regional councillors believe Durham is getting the short end of the stick with its current bulk water invoicing system.
At council’s latest meeting, Clarington councillor Joe Neal and Oshawa councillor John Neal put forward a motion asking the region to no longer allow independent companies to self-invoice for bulk water.
“The practice is that [companies that use our water system] self-invoice, so in other words, it’s an honour system,” Joe Neal said.
He noted that he has seen company employees “drive up in a truck that has no markings on it, stop, and the guy swoops out, they get a pipe or a hose and they get it hooked up to the hydrant and they pump their truck full of water.”
“Who knows what’s in that truck?” Joe asked. “It might be backfilling into our system. And then the expectation is that they’re supposed to write an invoice for themselves and then send it to the region.”
He further explained that after the region receives the invoice, they will then send the company a bill, which he calls “self-billing.”
Joe calls it “self-billing” because regional council does not know the actual amount of water being taken, so it is possible that companies are not being entirely truthful.
“I think this process has gone on too long,” said Joe.
He also noted there is a hydrant in his riding on Courtice Road that always has a hose connected to it because it is used so often.
He says while there is a proposal to put bulk water metres on hydrants, those metres still won’t tell the region who is using the water.
“At the end of the day, our water users are subsidizing these bulk water companies, and it’s a great business to be in where you get to self-invoice your raw materials, which is our water,” he said.
The motion suggests the region’s works department have until April to end the self-invoicing.
“If the water companies have a problem with that, they can get their own set up where they do it privately,” said Joe. “I think this council has a duty to protect its regional assets, and this is a regional asset that I think is, unfortunately, by and large being mishandled.”
Staff responded by asking for council to consider pushing the date back to 2020, noting a number of users on the system are working for local municipalities, and having such a quick cut off date will have a significant impact on regional contracts.
Staff also voiced concerns that companies will find another means to get water.
Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster was worried eliminating self-invoicing will put a number of people out of business.
“While I am absolutely certain that there is abuse of the system, I am not prepared to suggest that every single company [and] every single individual who fills up their truck with water are potentially thieves and are stealing water from the region.”
Council has moved to have staff come back with a report on the possibility of ending the self-invoicing policy.