By Tim Kalinowski
Cypress County councillors had an extended discussion on water and sewer rates and on proposed capital projects for 2016 at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
The water and sewer rates discussion revolved around the desire to have rates charged to users meet the county’s goal of 70 per cent of cost recovery. Several hamlets in the county failed to meet that goal, but this was in part due to unanticipated major system repair costs.
Utility reserves are currently set up to cover replacement costs but not major repair costs. Once those costs are broken out of the numbers that 70 per cent recovery becomes much more achievable. Council has asked corporate services director John Belanger to look at possibly setting up a reserve fund to take into account the costs of emergency repair of equipment. Thus the 70 per cent recovery ideal would be applied only to the operation of the system itself.
Council also agreed to start looking at the overall 70 per cent recovery cost as a total of all hamlets and users put together to determine progress toward that goal in the future, instead of on a hamlet by hamlet basis which was the norm in the past.
The overall percentage of recovery, (including repair costs), was calculated at 49.99 per cent for sewer systems and 42.92 per cent for water systems in 2014. Numbers that are unacceptable to councillors.
The discussion got much more lively when council was asked to set capital project funding priorities for the next year. Councillors held a non-binding vote to get the ball rolling for upcoming budget meetings in the month ahead. The initial list of about a dozen projects had to be whittled down to the top three or four which take priority in 2016.
Proposed further upgrades to the County’s DIAMOND Accounting Software through the creation of a virtual office at Cypress County and employee self-service timesheets, unsurprisingly, never got a sniff from council. Council was forced to pay an unanticipated $150,000 to properly patch the newly acquired $149,000 DIAMOND software system in July.
When the DIAMOND upgrades were proposed councillors shared a bitter laugh. A sentiment which deputy reeve and meeting chair Darcy Geigle summarized succinctly.
“Anything to do with DIAMOND is a bit of soft spot,” said Geigle with a well-timed understatement.
The projects which ended up unanimously getting council’s top priority in intent, granted the budget numbers could be made to add up, were the moving of the Veinerville water vault, replacement of the Suffield water distribution lines, constructing a building for the Onefour Fire Department and purchasing new weed inspection software for the county’s agriculture department.
The Veinerville water vault will likely be moved out of the flood zone in 2016 and upgraded for greater water usage at the same time. The City of Medicine Hat’s new berm system makes this project a priority as more water will be directed into the area in the event of a flood.
Cypress County recently signed an extension to its water supply agreement for the community of Suffield with CFB Suffield. With that agreement secured council felt it was time to upgrade the community’s aging and makeshift distribution line system. In some areas the lines are held together only by ad hoc PVC piping.
The Onefour Fire Department does not currently have a building for its equipment. During the summer months it sits outside exposed to the elements. The new buildings exact dimensions and material costs will be determined at a future budget discussion.
The weed inspection software was a bit more tricky to get agreement on given council’s previous experience with DIAMOND. However, council reluctantly approved the purchase in principle as it will allow the County’s agriculture department to mark and track invasives and other weed species in the area and provide measurement and charting capability to precisely measure rate of spread and identify problem areas. The projected cost estimate provided by the software company MRF Geosystems would be $4,800 for the software itself, $960 for yearly licensing and upkeep and $75/ hour for installation.
Other projects on the list, (the sum of which can be found on the Sept. 15 meeting agenda on the County’s website), failed to get unanimous consent and will be tabled until further financial information can be obtained. Council will hold a binding vote to give final approval for all 2016 capital projects in November.