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.
Cobourg Blog links
- Town to now start Billing Stormwater Fee – 9 October 2023
- Stormwater Fee not fair for some taxpayers – Report dated 7 January 2024, and was about the meeting on 10 January.
- Presentation by Jason Ducharme – PDF
- Cobourg Taxpayer site has more information here: Stormwater Management – includes delegation material
- Northumberland 89.7 – report by Cecilia Nasmith
Town of Cobourg
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.