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LETTER: Paying 'fair share' is in the eye of the beholder

Water rates in Oro-Medonte between 2002 and 2018 increased uncontrollably by a whopping 340%, laments letter writer, who puts blame on deputy mayor, council
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OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to a letter, titled 'Residents need to pay fair share for water: Hough,' published May 26.

On May 26, 2022, Oro-Medonte Deputy Mayor Ralph Hough wrote a letter to the editor of OrilliaMatters regarding the water controversy in Horseshoe Valley.

Mr. Hough stated that "for years many of the Zone 1 residents of Horseshoe Valley have asked successive councils to have their water that for decades has been provided by a private supplier, to be connected to the township system."

What Mr. Hough fails to mention is that the 454 households in Zone 1 have good reason to believe that they are already connected to a municipal water system. The township has billed water users since before amalgamation in 1994.

Mr. Hough also fails to mention that the township collects administration fees. Most importantly, Mr. Hough fails to mention that the township has collected reserve funds to repair or replace water system components as they age.

CAO Robin Dunn has stated that these funds are being held by the township. Mr. Hough failed to explain that under by-law 82-6, Medonte Township assumed the ownership of their water system on October 12, 1982. In fact, Medonte Township placed public notices to that effect in newspapers in both Coldwater and Barrie.

The heading in the Coldwater paper dated Feb. 10, 1982 , read "Medonte assumes Horseshoe roads, water." 

In Barrie, the heading dated Feb. 3, 1982, reads "Debenture available on Medonte project." This story states that "...township will pass a bylaw assuming the water systems and sale of the debenture should take place shortly after".

Once again, Mr. Hough fails to mention that these bylaws and agreements were not only signed but were automatically carried forward after the amalgamation of Oro and Medonte Townships in 1994. Mr. Hough fails to let readers know that these agreements were registered on title and that they continue in force to this day.

During negotiations in 1991 to bring Oro and Medonte water systems together under one agreement, engineers wrote that "Medonte would continue to own the system on the Medonte side, but Oro Township would be the operating authority for the entire system in both townships."

Either way, these systems belong to us. Mr. Hough fails to mention that a water services agreement was put in place between Oro and Medonte in the late summer of 1992.

The Deputy Mayor states that "Council engaged KPMG, an arm's length accounting firm, and legal counsel to determine a fair cost for Zone 1 users to connect to the municipal system. This resulted in a recommendation of $9,300 per Zone 1 dwelling unit for hookup fees. Many of the Zone 1 residents were not happy with this amount."

First of all, KPMG was not at "arm's length." In its report of 2019 regarding a Water Financial Plan, KPMG emphasized that "the information contained in this report has been compiled from information provided by the Township. We have not audited, reviewed or otherwise attempted to verify the accuracy or completeness of such information. Readers are cautioned that this information may not be appropriate for their purposes." Mr. Hough, this sounds like anything but an arm's-length analysis!

It appears that Mr. Hough violated parts of Oro-Medonte's Code of Conduct as well, by writing his letter as a member of council. Section 8.1 of the Code states that members are not supposed to engage in "...matters relating to ongoing litigation or negotiation, or that is the subject of solicitor-client privilege." He signed off as the Deputy Mayor of Oro-Medonte. Was his letter vetted by council in an open public forum? I don't think so. If his letter was approved behind closed doors, what does this say about council?

The historical Medonte agreements state that Horseshoe can move infrastructure from time to time, but this would be done at Horseshoe's own expense as stated in the Water Rights Guarantee Agreement of May 23, 1980. This agreement is registered on title on resort lands and is an agreement that is still being performed to this day, according to township staff in a sworn affidavit.

Build new developments in Horseshoe, but do not do so at the expense of existing capital water infrastructure which is already in municipal control and ownership. These agreements 'guarantee' certain water services, so why mess with that?

Besides, the township has already stated that these agreements are still in effect. As the townships have done for more than 40 years, let's continue to respect the guarantees and promises that were made years ago under contract. These water rights belong to the residents of Horseshoe, and they cannot be given away willy-nilly without our knowledge or consent.

Everyone in the Zone 1 water area in Horseshoe has paid their fair share or more for water, Mr. Hough. It's time that you read and understood your own municipal history. After all, you have been dedicating much of your time to public service in Oro-Medonte since about 1997.

You voted in favour of bylaws explaining that the Zone 1 system is municipal. Along with CAO Robin Dunn, you say that the township does not have the authority to determine water rates. This is rubbish. As a councillor on March 20, 2002, you seconded a motion to ask township staff to "negotiate" a water rate increase to a rate equivalent to the water rate charged for the Zone 2 Horseshoe Water System."

On July 17 of the same year, council received and adopted Report ES2002-42 confirming that the Water Rights Guarantee Agreement was in place and "...the operating and capital costs to operate a municipal water system have increased..."

You and council approved the rate increase. By the way, water rates between 2002 and 2018 increased uncontrollably by a whopping 340%. Well done! So much for the provision in this agreement limiting increases to hydro rate increases plus the cost of living, as indexed by Statistics Canada. Another promise broken. What happened to your institutional memory? Your impending retirement from municipal politics will be welcomed by many!

Larry Herr
Oro-Medonte Township