Stormwater Fee Schedule to be Reviewed

At the Council meeting on Wednesday January 31, the gallery was full and even overflowed into the Courthouse. Most of these citizens were interested in hearing what Council might do to resolve the unfair stormwater fees for owners of large rural properties.  There were about 8 presenters – starting with Colline Bell who had previously spoken to the Strategic Priorities and Policy Standing Committee on the 10th of January (see report on Cobourg News Blog – link in resources). Colline pointed out that unlike a tax, a “user fee may only be charged in exchange for a specific service offered to the person paying the fee” yet Colline and other presenters said that they did not use any stormwater infrastructure but were charged large fees – up to $30,000 per year.

As one presenter said, rural property helps and doesn’t “cost” since it absorbs water – so maybe the Town should not charge them at all. That’s what some other municipalities do.

Steven Woodward made a professional looking video explaining the problem from his point of view. It was addressed to the Public Works Standing committee – go here. He has already been billed a stormwater fee of $5000 which is more than the rent he receives from the farmer who uses it.

Peter Delanty spoke on behalf of the owners of Cobourg’s cemeteries: these are non-profit, have properties that are 99.5% grass and are faced with stormwater fees of $6K to $8K per year even though they don’t use any stormwater infrastructure. They asked for fairness.

Alan Carruthers, President of the Northumberland Federation of Agriculture, which represents 750 farms in Northumberland, said there are 600 acres of farmland in Cobourg.

The most constructive presentation was by Jason Ducharme (download from Resources) – he proposed an example solution that would charge the 190 largest properties $200 yet still collect the same revenue. The other 5,413 properties would only pay $28 more per year.

Along the way, Mayor Cleveland was defensive of the policy and pointed to the value of the large undeveloped holdings. But after the last presenter, it was clear that Lucas and Council were in favour of fixing the problem. Lucas said “we now have more information” and Director Laurie Wills said we will be “going back to the consultant (Watson and Associates) for a revision based on a more accurate data set”. Council passed a motion which included the following:

FURTHER THAT Council direct Staff to engage the authoring consultant to review the stormwater rate study and bring a report back to Council with alternative approaches.

AND FURTHER THAT all correspondence and speakers’ material from the Regular Council Meeting be recognized and acknowledged to be added to the first recital of the resolution and to be considered by Staff and the Consultant in the review.

That is, Watson will take a fresh look at the fee methodology and take into account all presentations by citizens.

Laurie clarified that because Watson is already familiar with the issue, it would be a lower cost to get them to do the work than someone new. She expected a report would take at least 2 months.

Meanwhile, once Lakefront has resolved the current billing issues, residents will be expected to pay per the current fee. However, it’s likely that there will need to be future corrections and credits issued. It’s not clear if interest would be charged on unpaid (excessive) bills.

Resources

Cobourg Blog links

Other Links

Town of Cobourg

Addendum

On February 6, the Town announced that the stormwater charges would be reviewed (per above report) and that interest WOULD be waived on overdue stormwater amounts until June 2024  Also, billing will resume with the full amounts charged. Go here for the full announcement.

Print Article: 

 

Subscribe
Click to Notify me of

19 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lola
25 days ago

Last Wednesday, I attended the Council meeting which included the discussion of the stormwater management fees. A very flawed by-law, in my view. Aside from that important issue, I absolutely have to comment on the Mayor’s conduct during the meeting. Never have I seen a more disrespectful Mayor during the delegations. He does some kind of incessant pen flipping, then drops the pen on the floor, then spends a minute adjusting his chain of office. Then he rolls his chair over to the Town Clerk and has a conversation with him (a Mayor will discretely do that if they have a question of protocol, but this was not that!). Then he returns to his position for a minute, then rolls over to chat with the CAO. Did I forget to mention the frequent texting/emailing? ALL during a delegate’s presentation. I felt like I was back in high school. Worst of all were the extremely inappropriate comments and questions to the presenters (what in begeezuz does the cemeteries’ revenues have to do with the stormwater management fees?). It was embarrassing to witness. Cobourg deserves better.

small town Ontario
Reply to  Lola
25 days ago

You see this behaviour at all the Town and County meetings. Sometimes shows up late, and does not appear to be paying attention. Head down when others speaking. A very nervous person, it seems to me. Towards the end of the meeting Bryan gave his presentation. IMO LC was rude in his response to him.

Marianne
Reply to  Lola
23 days ago

Totally in agreement with all of your comments. Almost embarrassing to watch. Some of the backhanded responses made by the Mayor were so out of line and absolutely ridiculous. $35,000,000 for farm land in Cobourg he said? Maybe he should bring himself up to date on what is really going on in East Cobourg. Nagle rd extension threatens every one of these farms, open spaces, waterways etc with expropriation for this going nowhere road. We have zero services, no road maintenance, no street lights, no sidewalks, unsafe roads. Now anywhere up to $30,000 annually for some neighbours for storm water? Perhaps this is actually pressure to sell up at a below market value as this will be unaffordable for most to hang on.

The presentations by the Storm Water delegations should have also embarrassed Council. They should be using the information/formula’s presented by these many professionals. We are lucky to have some many HIGHLY educated volunteers stand up and say NO!

Andrew
27 days ago

Stormwater is code for inequitable tax on land area outside of the MPAC appeal process. Some properties actually reduce flooding through storage and slow release. Others such as cemeteries are non-profit and provide multiple public benefit.

Something no one seems to have noticed is the cost of stormwater management is not directly related to peak flow but more the square root of flow, when you consider how the cross section of a pipe (or a bridge) varies with diameter of the opening. This is why the conceit of “stormwater” is such a terrific tax grab.

75% of the next Cobourg $500,000 street sweeper (town bylaw specifies 10 year replacement cycle) is to be paid for with stormwater revenue. Why do these machines that don’t see road salt only last 10 years? Just wondering.

Last edited 27 days ago by Andrew
Tucker
27 days ago

Why can’t this fiasco be put back to the way it has been collected all along? We paid our taxes and never knew “exactly where our money was spent”. But somehow things got covered. Someone had a “brilliant” idea to change things and it didn’t work. So “tuck your tail between your legs” and give in. Never mind having another “Watson” report, whether it’s for free or not. The first $100,000.00 didn’t get you anywhere but have many upset angry owners and thus lined the pockets of yet another consultant. This town uses way too many consultants. (Maybe that’s where our taxes are going) Are there not qualified people actually employed by the Town that could very well have done the investigating of making such a change correctly. Kudos to the residents who finally stood up to the “willy nilly” spending of Cobourg $$$.

Bozy
27 days ago

Agricultural lands in fact contribute to the storm water management issue at certain points. The principle of soil base saturation point is the key factor in the contribution. Soils in general do absorb water however once they reach base saturation, whereby all the soils micro and marco pores are full of water, we either get runoff or in the case of tiled fields we get drainage. In most cases soil runoff contributes to erosion of soils into drainage ditches that run along township roads! Those drainage ditches do require maintenance from time to time! Tiled agricultural fields drain into either nearby creeks, ravines or ditches which all increase the impact on our storm water management infrastructure. Next time we get an August thunderstorm, take a drive along Hwy 2 and see all the ditches that are full of water that run adjacent to farmland. I agree, soils do absorb a great deal of water, but we are talking about storm water management! Storms generally exceed the general absorption rate of soils thus we either get runoff or drainage into our storm water management infastructure!

Scottie
27 days ago

Many thanks to the residents of Cobourg who extensively researched the Stormwater issue and thus were able to successfully enlighten our Cobourg Council to the fact that the Watson Stormwater recommendation was indeed flawed and HAD to be reworked. BUT … how can they use the same consultant? It doesn’t make any sense to me– kind of like paying someone to do a terrible job for you – causing you GREAT embarrassment and expense and THEN rehiring the same contractor (at even MORE cost!!) to fix the mess they created in the first place. Small wonder Cobourg’s finances are in shambles and taxes are rising exponentially…

Tucker
Reply to  Scottie
27 days ago

Well said Scottie!!

small town Ontario
28 days ago

6. Recommendations Based on discussions with Town staff throughout the development of this asset management plan and funding assessment, the “Runoff Coefficient by Actual Land Area per Property” approach emerged as the preferred funding model. from Watson Report.

So, from the Watson Report- Flat rate per property, Utility Rate, or Runoff Coefficient by Property Owner, the third choice was preferred and town staff were part of this choice of process but billed through Lakefront Utility.
If the Property Tax Cost Share is used 79% is from residential and 21% from non-residential. ROCbyPO 32% from residential and 68% from non-residential.
Did Director Willis/her team actually calculate the dollar amount of the fees for those 68%. If so, would an additional $15,000.00 on a Utility bill not raise a red flag?
When the presenter mentioned this amount on his bill I thought, no it must be a mistake. Who can afford to pay this yearly, ongoing and increasing?
Yet CAO called it a disproportionate challenge? Really, she opens her utility bill and says oh my a disproportionate challenge.

At present, property taxes are utilized by the Town to fund most of the stormwater service needs. from Watson Report.
LC made a comment that 1.2 million is needed annually from a population of about 20,000 no way around it, but he seems to imply that taxpayer dollars for upkeep has not been ongoing which is not true.
Watson Report Fig. 2.3 Asset Conditions. Also noted funding from Fed/Prov. Grants and Dev. Charges. Citizens do not need to be told through this Watson Report how important it is to fund this. Citizens for years have been complaining about the money wasters as these very needs are on the horizon.

The research and recommendations, Cap $200. from the presenters were excellent and Councillor Marion M. was the only one who acknowledged them.
Councillor Darling mentioned the cost of the bridges over the streams 2.1 million?? Should we go back to horse and buggy as they rode through the stream, no need for a bridge. Sarcasm

Bryan
Reply to  small town Ontario
28 days ago

Small Town Ontario,
You make several good points.

Some minor quibbles:
“At present, property taxes are utilized by the Town to fund most of the stormwater service needs. from Watson Report.” Pre 2022 when Watson did the study, SW needs were mostly funded by property tax. In 2022, based on the Watson report and staff recommendation, Council changed the SW funding to the SWM FEE. That is the current funding tool.

“LC made a comment that 1.2 million is needed annually” Not sure where LC got $1.2M amount from. The 2023 SWM funding requirement was $1.644M and the 2024 requirement is $1.708M
The 2023 $1.644M SWM funding request is misleading because there was a $600K grant buried in the details of the 2023 CAP budget. The true 2023 SWM funding requirement net of the grant was $1.044M

“Councillor Marion M.” should have read Miriam M.

“Councillor Darling mentioned the cost of the bridges over the streams 2.1 million”
This comment is misleading.
His comment was in reference to the claim by some property owners that their properties directed SW into streams and not the SW system. Clr Darling pointed out that these streams cross roads that require bridges costing $2.1M. However, bridges and culverts are part of the Public Works “bridges & culverts” budget and funded by property taxes, not the SWM fee.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Bryan
27 days ago

If you think Brian’s Comment was Misleading what about the Mayor’s
$35 Million Dollar evaluation of a small farm with Agricultural Zoning , No services in sight for at least 10 years as we have No Capacity add another 5 years in the Planning department and and ????

In the old days the Authorities enforced that each property owner with a stream was responsible for maintaining and clearing of debris , fallen trees , beaver dams etc so as to maintain continuous water flow to down strean neighbours and to prevent upstream flooding . Why are these Old School Policies not being enforced by our Town and appropriate conservation authority Or is it better that the residents build little dams and run cute little water wheels , Put their leaves along the Stream Banks as protection from erosion . This Town needs to get out from behind the desk a little more
and do the job of it Fore Fathers

Ken Strauss
Reply to  small town Ontario
28 days ago

Small Town Ontario, our 20,000 population town has been funding a little used bus service to the tune of $1.8M per year. We could easily fund $1.2M for stormwater with no increase in taxes or “fees”. Simply eliminate the useless!

Kathleen
Reply to  Ken Strauss
27 days ago

Ken, who knows, we may also achieve the stormwater fees by eliminating our own private police force and going with OPP. Eliminating Buses is only one option.

Ken
Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 days ago

Good point Ken! Lets get rid of any sort of ‘bus service’ and invite Uber into our town! Just a thought.

NAI
28 days ago

And how are we going to have the advocates for the homeless also pay their share??

Ok – sarcasm and kidding aside (don’t ban me Mr Draper! Trying for a bit of levity – I agree with your comment!!!) Ken has a great point – the town is replete with expertise, and it is only archaic, patronizing regulations which specify that contracted support be at a ‘certified’, ‘recognized’ and ‘commissioned’ level of accreditation. In my view, such laws merely direct public funds to select organizations which don’t have the best interests of the town at heart, only their financial ledgers. We’d be much farther ahead, with much less cost, if we looked inwards first.

Standing by for the lobbyists and legal folks to cast the first stone.

Ken Strauss
28 days ago

I was shocked that no Councillor mentioned the cost of having Watson and Associates provide revisions to their original error riddled report that cost the taxpayers almost $100K.

Considering the excellent presentations on January 31, why not use local talent — Cobourg’s many retired engineers, financial analysts and other professionals — to prepare a revised plan? No cost to the town and likely better work than Watson appears capable of!

Bryan
Reply to  Ken Strauss
28 days ago

Ken S,

Totally agree.

Cobourg has an abundance of resident experts in a wide variety of disciplines. The recent SWM delegations (Jan 31) demonstrate a small sampling of that.
What staff fears, I think, is that:
-they can control the consultant (echosultant). They can’t control volunteer residents.
-the resident experts are likely to do the job as well as and possibly better than the consultant
-staff would have to give the volunteers access to Town data….. scary thought. Who knows what they might find buried under the carpet or in a dusty file cabinet.
-the volunteers may ask questions that test the limits of staffs’ expertise. It may be revealed that staff are not the subject matter experts that some claim them to be: Emperor’s new clothes syndrome

Last edited 28 days ago by Bryan
Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
27 days ago

All the SWM delegations were eloquent and professional and also brought to light the ineptitude of certain Town Staff.

As you say, there is an abundance of resident experts. We would really benefit from a Citizen Ombudsman and/or Auditor

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
27 days ago

Kathleen,
You have suggested a post of this nature several times. An auditor general would be good.