Hagensborg Water District facing “rising costs,” asks voters to prioritize projects

The Hagensborg Water District held their Annual General Meeting on Thursday, April 23, at the Hagensborg Fire Hall.

The Hagensborg Water District held their Annual General Meeting on Thursday, April 23, at the Hagensborg Fire Hall.

The meeting was well-attended and focused mostly on the auditor’s report presented by the HWD’s bookkeeper, Wesley Abel, and issues surrounding the purification system, aging infrastructure, and rising costs, presented by Chair Ken Dunsworth.

Abel, who began his position with the HWD last year, was enthusiastic and forthcoming with the report, stating that the HWD is doing a good job of managing its affairs overall.

As of December 31, 2014, the HWD had a closing cash balance of over $775,000. However, Dunsworth explained that Abel and the recent audit had revealed that costs were rapidly overtaking generated revenue, explaining that the required upgrades faced by the district are quickly exceeding $6 million. This is on top of increased operating costs, which Dunsworth said have exceeded by over 500% in some areas since the 1980s.

The HWD is facing a UV treatment point of entry water treatment program and the replacement of 12 kilometres of water line. The fire protection division must replace the aging fire truck, which expires in the next 18 months, and the fire hydrant assemblies also need major upgrades.

The trustees are having ongoing discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to redesign and rebuild the dam intake, as major new construction at the hatchery is requiring this renovation.

As the community agreed they would like to avoid chlorination several years ago, special effort has been made to comply with the governments legislation that all water must be “potable” or treated prior to entry into the home.

UV light was determined to be the treatment of choice and the system was installed in 2012. A number of homes have been operating with the POE system ever since.

However, at the meeting Dunsworth indicated that the government is also now considering water delivery systems (i.e. pipelines) to be a significant risk to potability, and are therefore equal in importance to purification. This presents yet another hurdle for small water systems.

In light of this development, Dunsworth raised the important question of priorities; asking the ratepayers which project they thought was most critical: replacement of the aging line or the POE system?

The costs of both projects are simply outside the scope of the HWD budget, and while Dunsworth characterized the HWD’s relationship with the government as “good,” he said that they are consistently trying to drive home the message that “we can’t afford this.”

Accessing funding to complete the multitude of projects has been a constant nightmare for the Board, as they are an Improvement District and don’t qualify for federal-provincial government infrastructure grants.

The option for amalgamating with the regional district was raised once again, and Dunsworth said that option is always up for discussion amongst the ratepayers.

The POE system is still being tested against issues such as turbidity and fluctuating water levels, and adjustments have been ongoing to correct the system from turning off unnecessarily and estimate future maintenance costs.

“We’re getting good information from these experiences,” said Dunsworth. “This has not been a failure but actually a success.”

Since the implementation of the $500 parcel tax, over $200,00 has been saved to pay for the POE system. These monies are strictly to be used for compliance and are inaccessible to the HWD for any other reason.

Dunsworth said that water tolls, however, have remained stagnant at $100 since 1984, and proposed the community bring up the tolls to be on par with inflation, to a total of $236. This would mean a total of $836 per year.

Ratepayers rejected this idea, saying the HWD should instead take a look at their expenses, pointing out that Administration costs are sitting at almost $25,000, and travel at almost $3500.

“It seems the first thing you should look at is cutting your expenses instead of trying to increase your revenue,” said Laurie Sissons.

“You have to look at cost savings,” said Ken McIlwain. “That I don’t see as an option that’s being presented tonight.”

Dunsworth responded by saying that the directors would consider that input and review costs.

Election of directors also took place. There were two-terms open, Ken Dunsworth was re-elected for another three-year term and Dianne Tuck was elected to fill the vacant seat left by Steven Hodgson, who resigned from the board last winter.