County rattles arbitration sabre in search of better terms with City of Belleville

(Gazette file photo)

OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

Binding arbitration appears to be on the horizon when it comes to an drinking water agreement between the County of Prince Edward and the City of Belleville for the village of Rossmore and the Fenwood Gardens subdivision.

Prince Edward County Mayor, Steve Ferguson, provided a letter to Belleville Mayor, Mitch Panciuk, outlining the resolution the municipality would be willing to accept.

Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“Respective staff have been involved and engaged with trying to renew this Agreement for a further term, however the parties have not reached a consensus relating to the price. The Corporation of the County of Prince Edward is prepared to accept the agreement as proposed and ratified by Belleville Council on June 28, 2021 (including a 10 year term and a 10 per cent reduction in the price), but accepts the pricing under the Agreement on an interim basis only,” the letter stated.

It went on to state that the County reserves its rights to invoke the arbitration provision in the agreement, in the unfortunate event it becomes necessary if the municipalities cannot agree on pricing.

“We feel that this is the best approach going forward and ask for the agreement of the City of Belleville to that process,” it concluded.

Presented with a proposal late last month, a potential deal between Prince Edward County and Belleville council was been referred back to municipal staff for legal advice after an amended motion was put forward by a County councillor.

Coun. Ernie Margetson commended Belleville staff for the effort but wanted to ensure the deal worked for residents of the County.

“Based on the long-term implications and the importance of this agreement to this municipality and the water rates of our residents, I would like to make an amending motion to refer this back to staff to seek legal advice to ensure this agreement is in the best interest of the municipality,” he said. 

While the current water rate sold to Belleville residents sits at $1.86 per cubic metre and $2.42 per cubic metre for bulk water,  the municipality pays its neighbour $4.34 per cubic metre for supplying Rossmore and the small sub division sandwiched between Highway 62 and County Rd. 28.  Ultimately, the County is charged a 79 per cent premium for Belleville water.

The County had paid the City of Belleville over $4.9 million in bulk water purchases for just 435 homes since 2006. Water users in Rossmore and Fenwood Gardens do not pay the inflated rate for Belleville water, and instead pay $2.84 per cubic metre municipal rate and the overcharge is shared by all waterworks users. 

Municipal staff in the County were seeking a substantial reduction in the bulk water rate to bring it in line with other bulk water purchasers in Belleville. Specifically, they were negotiating $1.92 for the first 455 cubic metres and $1.43 per cubic metre for the next 22,275 cubic metres.

The City of Belleville counter-offered the Corporation of the County of Prince Edward with a 10 per cent discount on either a 10-year or two-to-three-year term. County staff had recommended that council approve the draft agreement with the 10-year term because the other option would conflict with the end of the City of Belleville’s bulk water agreement with the City of Quinte West. Staff also wanted to ensure a good relationship was maintained between the two neighbouring municipalities. 

CAO Marcia Wallace noted since the County’s current water deal with the City of Quinte West would be set to expire at the same time if the two or three-year term was accepted, which could put the County in a tricky situation. 

The County buys water from Quinte West to service Carrying Place and Consecon at a rate of $1.26 per cubic metre, a rate much lower than that charged by Belleville.

It is key to note the County owns and manages the entire water distribution from the outlet pipe at the bottom of Sidney Street in Belleville, including a 4-kilometre pipe under the Bay of Quinte throughout the communities of Rossmore and Fenwood Gardens. 

Margetson’s amending motion passed and the document has been sent back to municipal staff for further consideration.