May 22, 2019

Winnipeg
14° C, Light rain showers

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Commission questions Winnipeg's practice of diverting water and waste revenue to pay for other services

FOTOLIA

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2017 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Toronto-based think-tank has singled out Winnipeg for having one of the best management practices within its water and waste department for calculating its infrastructure deficit and devising a financial plan to resolve it.

But the Ecofiscal Commission questions whether city council is undermining the effectiveness of the administration by repeatedly skimming money from the department's water and sewer revenues.

Chris Ragan, chairman of the Ecofiscal Commission, said when the group included Winnipeg in its report it wasn't aware that the city council has been taking an annual dividend from the water and sewer bill revenues — eight per cent between 2011 and 2014 and 12 per cent from 2015 — to help cover the cost of building and maintaining roads.

Ragan said provincial legislation across the country prohibits municipalities from doing what Winnipeg has been doing since 2011 with its water and sewer bills.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2017 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Toronto-based think-tank has singled out Winnipeg for having one of the best management practices within its water and waste department for calculating its infrastructure deficit and devising a financial plan to resolve it.

But the Ecofiscal Commission questions whether city council is undermining the effectiveness of the administration by repeatedly skimming money from the department's water and sewer revenues.

Chris Ragan, chairman of the Ecofiscal Commission, said when the group included Winnipeg in its report it wasn't aware that the city council has been taking an annual dividend from the water and sewer bill revenues — eight per cent between 2011 and 2014 and 12 per cent from 2015 — to help cover the cost of building and maintaining roads.

Ragan said provincial legislation across the country prohibits municipalities from doing what Winnipeg has been doing since 2011 with its water and sewer bills.

 

"Winnipeg is not just the exception in Manitoba — it's the exception," said Ragan, an associate professor of microeconomics and policy at McGill University. "Transparency in policy is a good thing. User fees are way to be very transparent but that means to use the revenue for what they say they are using it for."

Winnipeggers have to ask what it means if council can take 12 per cent of its quarterly water and sewer bills to pay for roads, he said.

"Can they divert the 12 per cent and say the water infrastructure is perfectly good? If that’s true, then I guess they didn’t need the fees that high," he said. "But if they’re diverting the 12 per cent and at the same time we have an infrastructure gap and we’re short of money, maybe diverting that 12 per cent isn’t a good idea."

The Ecofiscal Commission issued a report Tuesday titled Only The Pipes Should Be Hidden, which encourages municipalities across the country to adopt what it has identified as 10 best practices for managing and operating water and waste utilities. Winnipeg was singled out as an example for having calculated the infrastructure funding gap within the water and waste department and devising a plan to eliminate it.

The commission report identifies three issues most important and under-recognized in Canada when it comes to municipal water: we use a lot of water; most of Canada’s municipalities have serious water-system infrastructure deficits; and we’re more likely to have water crises if we don’t keep up our infrastructure.

The report identifies consumption-based water rates as part of the solution to ensure municipalities are recovering operating costs and making up the system's infrastructure gap.

CANADA'S ECOFISCAL COMMISION / STATISTICS CANADA</p><p>Tge average daily residential and total per capita consumption of water, by province.</p>

CANADA'S ECOFISCAL COMMISION / STATISTICS CANADA

Tge average daily residential and total per capita consumption of water, by province.

The Ecofiscal Commission was formed in 2014 by the country’s leading economists, with a five-year mandate to "identify policy options to improve environmental and economic performance in Canada."

Provincial legislation requires all municipalities in Manitoba to subject their water and sewer rate increases to scrutiny before the Public Utilities Board, which ensures the rates reflect funds needs to cover operating and long-term capital costs — except in Winnipeg, which sets its own rates without scrutiny from the PUB or any other agency.

Since 2011, successive Winnipeg city councils have diverted a total of $180 million from the revenues collected by the water and waste department from the water and sewer bills to bolster general revenues, often to help build and maintain roads.

Council under former mayor Sam Katz approved an annual eight per cent dividend in 2011 and Mayor Brian Bowman bumped the dividend up to 12 per cent for his first budget in 2015, as a way to maintain his election promise of a cap on property tax increases.

Council approved a three-year rate increase package that saw water and sewer bills increase 9.2 per cent in 2016, 8.9 per cent in 2017, and a further 7.4 per cent in 2018.

CANADA'S ECOFISCAL COMMISION / STATISTICS CANADA</p><p>Overall water volume (per person, per day) produced by treatment plants in major Canadian cities.</p>

CANADA'S ECOFISCAL COMMISION / STATISTICS CANADA

Overall water volume (per person, per day) produced by treatment plants in major Canadian cities.

Water and waste officials said the increases are necessary to cover not only operating costs but to cover the financing costs for its significant infrastructure projects.

The department said in 2012 that it had a $500-million backlog in repairs to water mains and sewer-line upgrades. In addition, the department is projecting a $1-billion cost for the upgrade to the North End sewage treatment plant and a minimum $1-billion cost to separate the combined sewer system.

Despite the rate increases, the department has yet to resolve the brown water issue and it recently launched a lawsuit against builders for serious problems discovered at the water treatment plant.

"The water might be good now but if you have an event that turns out to be a crisis, wow, is that ever difficult to deal with," Ragan said. "If we’re diverting 12 per cent to build roads and because of that Winnipeg's water infrastructure ins’t being maintained, that’s the danger."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 9:32 AM CDT: Updated headline

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us