On January 24th there was a Public Hearing for the proposal to transfer our drainage to EPCOR. I previously wrote about this topic in June and October. While I generally try to provide a summary of the discussion and reports, this topic requires significant information to help educate everyone. With that in mind, I would ask that you set aside some time to read through the information provided in the previous links. That information will provide the necessary details to allow you to share your feedback. On top of the information that can be found in those two posts, here is the additional information that was presented to City Council at the meeting on January 24th (All three reports can be found by clicking on the link and they will show on the right side of your screen).
To date, the primary feedback I have received relates to concerns around transparency, governance and accountability. As you will have read in my June post, my immediate reaction upon hearing about the proposal was one of skepticism. I had and continue to have some concerns about transparency, governance and accountability. At each point along the process, many of my concerns have been able to be addressed. If you are interested, you can watch or listen to the entire Public Hearing online as you can hear the submissions from the members of the public as well as the questions from Council to our Administration and EPCOR. If you do not have the opportunity to listen to the Public Hearing, my remaining outstanding concerns were addressed verbally but as I do not want to rely on verbal assurances, a motion was made to put those verbal assurances into writing before any vote. The motion that passed is as follows:
“That the City Manager work with EPCOR Utilities Inc. to develop a Letter of Intent with EPCOR for further consideration of Council regarding the transfer of the drainage utility assets and liabilities from the City to EPCOR as outlined in the EPCOR Proposal with due consideration of the following principles:
- The public’s interests must be a top priority.
- There must be value for the taxpayers and ratepayers.
- Provide a net advantage to the City and maintain or enhance the City’s long-term financial sustainability.
- EPCOR’s existing electricity, water and other business operations will be maintained.
- City Council will remain as regulator of drainage rates through a Performance Based Regulation, similar to water.
- Utility customers must not be negatively impacted: EPCOR to maintain no more than the rate increases required to support the service and quality metrics in the current Drainage Services Utility plan.
- Ensure ongoing effective asset management practices and continued commitment to current Council priorities for flood mitigation.
- All staff impacted by the proposal will be treated respectfully and their employment statuses will be maintained.
- Mechanisms to address and include:
- transparency of operations,
- equivalent public involvement to current environment situation,
- public access to information,
- City’s right to audit (or audit by City Auditor),
- future divestment of assets requiring public hearing,
- an inquiry process to ensure the regulator and public can stay involved outside the Performance Based Rates process.”
Principles 1 – 8 are not new as they were part of the original proposal. What is new is everything in principle 9. During the debate of this motion, some suggested they had enough information to make their final decision on the proposal. While I appreciate that perspective, I was not yet comfortable voting yes or no on this with the information that had been presented. The addition of principle 9 is what I feel is necessary to be able to make a final decision. The bullet points in principle 9 were created based off some questions I had of our legal department and of EPCOR. As mentioned above, each of those points were addressed verbally but seeing how they would actually be addressed in writing is critical. Essentially the concept is that we should be able to be able to do everything the same way as we have been doing through our existing process (ex: Utility Committee) and simply have EPCOR reporting back instead of our current Administration. A thorough letter of intent that properly addresses those points does not guarantee that I will support the proposal, but it would certainly cover off my primary concern around transparency, governance and accountability.
The letter of intent will be made public in advance of the April 11th Council meeting for all to review. I would ask that for anyone interested in sharing feedback, please read through that letter of intent and then contact me to share your comments. The feedback I received in advance of the Public Hearing helped to shape the questions I asked and the points in principle 9. This is an important decision and my commitment is to continue reviewing the information available to help inform my vote. Thank you for taking the time to review all the information and I look forward to your feedback.