The Capital Regional District (CRD) wants the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) to submit an application for a federal-provincial infrastructure grant before a Jan. 26 deadline, but the water utility says it has solid reasons for not doing so.
In a Dec. 8 letter to NSSWD chair Michael McAllister, CRD chief administrative officer Robert Lapham asks for clarification about whether or not the NSSWD would be applying for a grant under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP).
“This is to advise you that with the approaching deadline, and the work that needs to be completed, the CRD will be pursuing a grant for another service area (s) on Salt Spring Island if North Salt Spring Waterworks District is not applying for this funding opportunity,” wrote Lapham.
Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman has been vocal about his belief that the NSSWD should not pass up an opportunity to apply for the grant. Discussions with CRD and Ministry of Municipal Affairs staff have indicated likely approval for a grant covering up to 73 per cent of costs for infrastructure projects like the $5-million Maxwell Lake treatment plant.
“So we’ve been urging them to submit the ICIP application by Jan. 26,” said Holman. “Let’s at least line those ducks up. There is no down side for them.”
Traditionally, an improvement district is expected to dissolve and “convert” to either a regional district or municipal government body in order to access infrastructure grants. On Salt Spring, ratepayers in a number of water improvement districts voted several years ago to become CRD entities in order to get federal-provincial government money for needed upgrades. In part because of those groups’ experience with the CRD, the NSSWD has been reluctant to go that route and is instead pushing for a different governance model as recommended in the Water Service Optimization Study report done by INNOVA Strategy Group and released about a year ago.
In a Dec. 16 letter to Holman, McAllister stated, “It is still our hope and desire to find a way to successfully implement the [INNOVA] consultant’s preferred Option 3 . . . an independent CRD department that reports directly through its commission to the CRD Board, protected by binding legal agreements.”
McAllister told the Driftwood on Monday that negotiations are still ongoing about that possibility, and he and his board feel it makes more sense to conclude that process before applying for grants.
“My preference would be to work out what the [organizational] structure looks like and if it works out favourably so we can all live with it, then we would wait for the next funding opportunity to come along.”
He points out that of the approximately $25 million in infrastructure work the NSSWD needs in the next 15 years, only $7 million would be eligible for federal-provincial infrastructure funding anyway. And since the Maxwell Lake plant is not due to be constructed until 2025, he is confident that another federal-provincial infrastructure grant program will arise before that time.
Holman points to a Nov. 8 letter to the NSSWD from Tara Faganello, the assistant deputy minister of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, in which she suggests the NSSWD and CRD do not have “irreconcilable differences” and urges the NSSWD to make an ICIP grant application via the CRD. Faganello also stated that the NSSWD would be under no pressure from the province or CRD to convert to a CRD entity until the ICIP grant outcome was known.
While Holman understands the NSSWD’s reluctance to deal with the CRD, he feels NSSWD ratepayers should be the ones deciding whether or not they want to benefit from federal-provincial grant money, even if it means having a different governance structure for their water service.
“To me that’s the fundamental issue here: should the [NSSWD] trustees simply get to make that decision without consulting their ratepayers?”
McAllister notes that NSSWD trustees are democratically elected and as such have been given the mandate to make decisions as they are doing now.
And when it comes to talking about the costs and benefits of joining the CRD, he said, “There’s the immediate cost, and what it will ultimately cost down the road.”