Residents in the Village of Chester have a choice to make. They will have an opportunity to make that choice on Saturday, January 26, 2019. That is the date when the Municipality will hold a ballot vote on whether Chester Village ratepayers are in favour of a municipally-owned and operated central water supply or not.
Council discussions, public input, and plenty of media coverage culminated in a partnership between the Municipality and the Village of Chester Commission to develop a scope of work for a needs assessment and options analysis, including estimated costs. The intention [of the assessment] was to survey property owners in the Village of Chester to determine their existing water supply conditions, the need for a central water system, and what that system might look like. The cost for that analysis was $19,713, equally shared with the Commission.
The final report told us that most wells in the Village were dug and not up to today's drinking supply standards. Around a quarter of homeowners who took the survey reported water shortages and more than half used water treatment systems to remove bacteria, minerals, and metals. At least half of the residents have water supplies that are inconsistent or of insufficient quality. However, the presence of bacteria (62% of the 80 wells tested) was consistent with the type (dug, rock-lined) and age (up to and beyond 50 years) of the wells found in the area. It was noted that clean drinking water was achievable on-site through regular water sampling and maintaining treatment systems and well conditions.
It was suggested that a central water system would significantly improve the consistency, quality, and quantity issues that residents and businesses have and provide a secure source of clean drinking water.
The report also indicated that locating a system in the Village itself was not ideal because of the poor water quality and quantity. The report recommended that we consider a central groundwater supply in Middle River. Alternatively, a potential surface water location at Spectacle Lake.
Following the needs analysis, a socio-economic report was recommended in August 2017. The final report provided cost estimates, benefits of a central water system, and further details on the options for different systems. The cost of the socio-economic report was $42,800, also cost-shared with the Commission.
The report identified that a central water supply would,
- mitigate impacts of poor water quality and quantity,
- address certain weaknesses described in the Municipality's Integrated Community Sustainability Plan,
- improve possibility of growth, and
- address threats caused by Climate Change.
Who is affected?
Property owners whose property is within the Village Boundary agreed upon by the Village of Chester Commission and Council for the Municipality will be affected. The boundary is roughly from (ang including a small part of) Haddon Hill Road to the end of Chester Shore Road, including the Golf Course area and all properties south, including the Peninsula. Options to include up to Chester Shore Mall and Target Hill Road are also being considered.All of the lots in this service area will be eligible for connection, and would be required to pay the capital costs.
What is the real cost?
Speaking of costs, CBCL Ltd., the engineering firm hired to do the needs assessment and socio-economic report provided the Municipality and Commission with a "Class D" estimated cost for a couple of water systems. The first option is for a surface water system (Spectacle Lake) in the amount of $44,522,000. The estimated cost for a groundwater system (Middle River) is $46,519,000. For clarification, a "Class D" is an "indicative" estimate, meaning the costs are calculated during the conceptual phase, before a definitive design is settled upon. The range of fluctuation in costs is +/-35%
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a Class A estimate is also called a "pre-tender" estimate and is generally expected to be within 5-10% of actual costs.
Other things that affect the end cost are,
- Insurance rates - Proximity to "fire flow" (fire hydrants, etc.) can decrease insurance premiums, resulting in direct savings to homeowners. However, we encourage contacting your broker or insurer to see exactly what those savings will be. We've heard anywhere from $55 per year to $400.
- Types of systems - the estimate for a surface water system does not include constructing a dam if needed. The costs for both systems include paving, connections, meters, the plant, and personnel.
- Fire protection (larger distribution main, increased reservoir size, and hydrants).
None of the estimates provided include usage costs (consumption).
The average capital cost per household per year for 25 years will range from $1,516.00 to 1,655.81 (Years 1-10) and $958.22 to 822.61 (Years 11-25), not including consumption.
So far, costs that have been paid include only engineering reports. The next step in this project will be polling residents and is expected to cost $23,000. This money is taken from the general rate. The Municipality will seek funding for 75% of capital construction costs. The remainder, plus usage rates, will be charged to all of the lots within the service area. The rate for capital is mandatory, and will be applied to their property tax bills whether they connect or not, the same as sewer charges. Those who connect to the system will also pay a usage fee and meter installation. If this funding isn't secured, the project will be re-evaluated.
What will happen next?
Before they proceed with any further action on this project, Council wants to get a clear indication of what the public wants. If is evident from the results that affected residents in the service area want a central water supply, the Municipality could proceed with pre-design work, which will cost approximately $1.7 million. That decision won't be made until after the poll.
To determine the level of support, a vote by secret ballot will be held on Saturday, January 26 with e-voting on the issue the week leading up to it. Only those with property in the service area will be eligible to vote (one vote per property). Properties will be divided into sections geographically so that if a phased approach to installation is chosen, priority areas will be already apparent.
This is not a plebiscite. Plebiscites only allow those whose primary residence is in the affected area to have a say. Instead, it is a non-binding poll of all property owners in the service area. Prior to polling day, residents should look for a direct mailout (to property owners within the service area), information in the media, information on all municipal platforms (social media, website, newsletter), public information meetings and pop-up booths (in the Village), and engagement at www.voicesandchoices.ca/chester-water.