Parrsboro Wastewater System Treatment Plant
Prior to dissolution, the Town of Parrsboro operated a wastewater collection system, serving businesses and approximately 300 of the 700 residences in the community, primarily those located in the downtown area, with outfalls into the Parrsboro Harbour. The remaining 400 dwellings were serviced by private septic systems, with some private pipes flowing directly into the harbour.
In order to meet Federal Guidelines , updates to the Parrsboro wastewater treatment process were required by 2020.
On October 1, 2015 the Town of Parrsboro, officially applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for an order of dissolution and that the area comprising the town be annexed to, and form part of, the Municipality of the County of Cumberland upon dissolution. On pages 135&136 of the application for dissolution, the following can be noted about the cost implications of an update to the town’s wastewater process:
“The most significant infrastructure need at present is for a new wastewater system to meet federal regulations by 2020. It is expected thatthe [sic] capital cost of construction will be approximately 5 million dollars. This system will be limited to serving only 300 dwellings and the local burden on those property owners would be extreme. The Town applied for Building Canada Fund cost-sharing of 2/3 in 2014, but was not successful. It is expected that the Town will re-apply in 2016/17. Even ifit [sic] is approved for 2/3 funding ofthe [sic] project, the Town's 1/3 share will significantly deplete Parrsboro's reserves, or require a significant borrowing. Furthermore, this will severely limit the Town's ability to invest in other infrastructure projects that benefit the community at large (768 private dwellings). Additionally, the current annual sewer fee of $205 will need to increase causing a further financial burden to property owners.”
Updates to the wastewater treatment process in Parrsboro were written into the terms of dissolution.
PREDESIGN STUDY & INITIAL FUNDING
The Town of Parrsboro undertook a pre-design study in 2016 to determine the scope and estimate of work required to bring the town’s wastewater treatment process in line with the federal guidelines. The engineering firm CBCL, completed the pre-design work . In 2016, the original estimate for the necessary infrastructure, including a new wastewater treatment plant and associated collection system upgrades, was in excess of $8 million. This work also included an expansion of the sewer system network, capable of servicing 80% of the homes in the community.
Based on the 2016 estimates, 96% of the project costs were to be funded by Federal and Provincial grants. At that time, the new sewer rate was projected to be $410 per unit per year as per pages 33&34 of the order of dissolution .
The Town of Parrsboro completed an application to the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) June 24, 2016. The CWWF program had a project completion deadline of March 31, 2018. The application did acknowledge that the Town of Parrsboro was in dissolution negotiations with the Municipality of Cumberland:
“The proposed project is a Wastewater Treatment Plant. This plant will exclusively serve residents of the Town of Parrsboro. However, this application is submitted with the full support of the County of Cumberland, whom Parrsboro will be joining November 1st, 2016.”
The Town of Parrsboro was formally dissolved into the Municipality of Cumberland on November 1, 2016. The wastewater project was inherited by the Municipality of Cumberland upon dissolution as there was not sufficient funds for the Town of Parrsboro to complete the project prior to dissolution.
In the 2016 CBCL pre-design, the site of the wastewater treatment facility was determined to be in one location, however the Fundy Geological Museum did not want to be located directly beside such a facility. This issue was brought to council of the Municipality of Cumberland on March 15, 2017. It was moved by Deputy Warden Fletcher seconded by Councillor Rafuse to move the Parrsboro Waste Water Treatment Plant location to the recommended site PID# 25271867 and approve a $346,000 increase in the Parrsboro Waste Water Treatment Plant construction budget to be included in the Municipality’s 2017/2018 Annual budget.
The project went to tender in winter 2017. Due to the strict completion deadline imposed by the CWWF program, the tender responses were all higher than expected. Council tabled the decision until a further meeting.
A letter was sent to the provincial CWWF contact on April 11, 2017 outlining the concern council expressed as bids for this tender closed significantly higher than the estimated capital costs for this scope of work. The letter requested a change in scope of the project.
The provincial CWWF contact forwarded the municipality’s request for a change in scope to Infrastructure Canada, the CWWF granting entity. The provincial CWWF contact did not receive a formal response back from Infrastructure Canada and as such, the scope of the project was left unchanged. The project was tendered in two portions,
the treatment plant
as one portion and
the collection system
as a second portion.
At the May 3, 2017 Council meeting , Councillor Rafuse declared a conflict and removed himself from Council at 7:25 p.m., directly following that it was moved by Deputy Warden Fletcher seconded by Councillor McLellan to award the complete scope of the Collection System Tender for the Parrsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant Project, Contract No. 161039, to the low bidder, Brycon Construction, at a value of $8,600,275 including taxes.
The tender for the Parrsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant was awarded at the July 5, 2017 Council meeting . It was moved by Councillor Williams seconded by Councillor Chase to accept the submission from Dora Construction in the amount of $3,800,000 + HST for Tender 161039 Parrsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant construction.
The project was completed in 2018 at an actual cost of $12.675 million.
Federal and Provincial funding was based on the original estimates, and as such, only 65% of the actual cost was paid for by those grants.
This left an amount of $4.4 million to be paid for by the residents in the service area. This amount was borrowed in the fall of 2018 with expectations to be recovered from the residents in the service area over the next 20 years.
OPERATION & BILLING
The wastewater treatment facility was functioning after summer 2018, and as is practice for completed projects, funding was set out in the following year’s operating budget. In setting the 2019/2020 operating budget for the Municipality of Cumberland at the May 15, 2019 council meeting , the sewer rate for the residents within the Parrsboro area rate was set at $957. The annual unit rate for the Parrsboro sewer system of $957 was made up of $336 for operating costs and $621 to fund the annual debt payments.
June 19, 2019 at a Council meeting , Municipal Council reviewed a report from staff regarding public concerns over the Parrsboro Sewer Rate. Council decided to amend the sewer rate in the community of Parrsboro with the following course of action:
1. Base Parrsboro’s per unit sewer charge calculation on previous year's budget, resulting in the deferral of approximately $357,000;
2. Assess properties in the existing service area at the same unit value as the previous year;
3. Assess unit values to properties with buildings in expanded service area only if hooked-up at time of billing;
4. Revise Parrsboro 2019/20 per unit sewer charge from $957 to $575;
5. Continue to charge a flat rate of $50 for vacant land and buildings not connected in the existing and new service areas;
6. Request financial assistance from Municipal Affairs re: debt costs resulting from market value increase of construction over original budget;
7. Develop a capital funding policy to identify how future infrastructure projects are to be funded;
8. Develop a communications and public engagement strategy for future infrastructure projects;
9. Develop one by-law for all county owned sewer systems;
10. Reassess all sewer system service areas based on revised by-law; and
11. Advise property owners in writing of their sewer assessment, appeal process by December 31st, 2019.
An update provided to council and posted on the municipality’s website in October 2019 outlined the progress of the 11-step action plan from June 2019.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FROM MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS
One of the key commitments in the June 2019 11-step action plan was for the municipality to request financial assistance from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing (DMAH).
In a letter to the Honorable Minister Chuck Porter of DMAH dated September 6, 2019, Warden Allison Gillis formally requested a reallocation of transition funding to offset the 2019/2020 Parrsboro sewer rate. In another letter to Minister Porter , this time dated September 9, 2019, Warden Gillis also formally requested the Province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada to provide additionally funding in the amount of $3,290,160 for the Parrsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant and Collection System.
In an emailed response dated October 16, 2019, Minister Porter acknowledged the importance of the project and the financial pressure that cost overruns may cause. He did note that the CWWF funding parameters were clear and thy did not allow for funding project overages.
A second formal request letter dated April 6, 2020 was sent from Warden Gillis to Minister Porter. Again, the Warden was requesting that the province provide additional funding for the Parrsboro Sewer System Project.
On April 6, 2020, Member of Parliament for Cumberland-Colchester the Honourable
Lenore Zann was also sent a letter of formal request
for additional capital funding for the Parrsboro Wastewater Treatment and Collection System capitol project.
There was a suggestion in June of 2020 , that perhaps the federal government would cover the funding shortfall if requested by the province, this suggestion was followed up on, and turned out to be incorrect .
It was brought to light in June 2019 that between the former town and the municipality, there were multiple by-laws concerning sewer with inconsistent rules. A set of public information meetings were held in November 2019, to
present the proposed changes
to the public prior to Council giving first reading to one full-county encompassing sewer by-law. These changes were to create an even and fair approach to billing and administration of sewer services throughout the county.
Four public meetings were held:
November 14th 5:30 p.m. Pugwash Village Hall
November 18th 5:30 p.m. Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre
November 20th 5:30 p.m. Parrsboro Firehall
November 21st 5:30 p.m. Joggins Fossil Institute
At the November 27, 2019 Council meeting a report was provided by staff on the comments and suggestions heard from the public. Council directed staff to maintain individual system rates for determining sewer charges and also directed staff to investigate the feasibility of a metered sewer rate in areas that also have metered water services.
It is important to note that by investigating this option, the passing and adoption of a new Public Sewer By-law was to be postponed until the new year. This meant that the previously announced deadline to advise property owners of their sewer assessment by December 31, 2019 was extended until February 28, 2020.
Council received the Sewer By-law for first reading March 19, 2020 . Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, council was unable to meet in chambers therefore an agenda package was distributed to councillors via email and they responded to the items on the agenda via email.
CAPITAL FUNDING POLICY
The municipality takes on numerous capital projects each year. Some of these projects require funding by the residents who are in direct benefit, or in the area which is directly benefiting from the project. When this happens, it is called a local improvement charge and is charged on a tax bill as an area rate. Sections 75&81 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) , give municipalities the authority to impose area rates and local improvement charges through by-law.
At the April 15, 2020 Council meeting, a set of memos were provided by the Director of Finance and the Director of Engineering and Operations outlining
funding calculations and options for implementing a by-law for an area charge
revisions to the Sewer By-Law
. The funding calculations showed options compared to other capitol projects within the municipality and also what the cost might be given two different options of funding from the general tax rate. Furthermore, the memo also compared the final tax rate of the former Town of Parrsboro to the projected 2020/2021 tax rates under the Municipality of Cumberland including an area rate.
In response to the presentation of the April 15th memo, It was moved by Councillor Fletcher seconded by Councillor van Vulpen to approve first reading of the Local Improvement By-Law
A public hearing of the Sewer By-law was set for May 20, 2020 but council voted to postpone until a later date.
As set out in the MGA, the process for approving a by-law is to have Council complete a first reading, followed by a public hearing which has been advertised in a public newspaper at least 14 days prior to the public hearing. After the public hearing, Council then gives second reading to the by-law and the by-law is then considered passed.
Public hearings for both the Public Sewers and Local Improvement By-Laws will take place September 9, 2020.