Review of Public Works Efficiencies

As a result of the KPMG Service Delivery Review, Council has asked Staff to report on possible efficiencies in several departments and at the next CoW Council meeting, CAO Tracey Vaughan will deliver several status reports starting with the Works Department.  Specifically, this will cover Parking, Fees for Storm Water Management and Transit.  The intent is not to reduce “services” and their associated cost, but to get more revenue.  These projects were previously the subject of Council discussion and decisions and Cobourg News Blog reported on them – see Links below.  The key point is that in each case, Council has approved increasing user fees.  However, revenues still mostly fall short of costs.  Below are summaries of the Staff reports for each initiative.

Parking

Extensive changes are planned – both Downtown and on the Waterfront – and some of it has already been implemented.   Pay and Display machines have replaced many meters and Council has approved large increases, especially in the waterfront area (in season).  The net effect is expected to be an increase in parking revenue by an estimated $1,000,000 per year.  Although not included in the staff report, this is expected to be required to fund a multi-storey car park on Covert Street.  This may be required sooner than later since it’s rumored that the Quigley lot (corner Second and Albert) has been sold so will be unavailable for Parking.  The current lease expires December 2022.  Background of the Quigley lot is provided here.

Storm Water Fees

The issue is that the cost of Storm Water management throughout the Town is not covered by any fee to “users”.  The cost of sewers is included in our water bills but not stormwater. The immediate problem is that this cost is not known so a consultant has been hired to help work this out.  It’s expected that Council will be asked to approve a fee schedule in 2022 so we will likely see a new item on our water bills in 2023.

Transit

Fares charged come nowhere near the actual cost of Transit but if the service could be improved, it’s hoped that there would be more riders and therefore more revenue.  A trial of an on-demand system has been done over the past year and small increases in fares approved.  Staff were also recently asked to report on the possibility of carrying children under 12 at no fee but their report says that there’s no way to be able to estimate costs or revenue impact.

Currently, the trial is using three small busses instead of the usual 2 large ones.  So far this appears to provide better service.

Although a decision is not likely anytime soon, some statistics are available:

Combined Wheels and Conventional services between June 14 and February 15:

  • Average trip duration: 9.91 minutes
  • Total completed rides: over 24,000
  • Total completed passengers: 27,000
  • Total shared rides: 13,000 (56% overall, 63% conventional, 21% Wheels)
  • Average ride rating: 4.72 [presumably out of 5?]
  • Driver on time performance: 94.35%

The next step is to decide on what should be implemented and get Council approval.  There is no indication of when that might happen.

Overall, it’s good that staff are working on these projects as a result of the KPMG Service Delivery Review and it’s also good that there are progress reports.

Links

Parking

Storm Water Fees

Transit

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Sandpiper
4 March 2022 10:40 am

Our Engineering Dept Ms Wells & team have been fumbling in and around this Storm water issues for over a Decade now . Holding up Developers with Red Tape then Holding all sorts of stake holder meetings etc especially in the north east and west areas . But it all trickles down hill and those of us at the lower end suffer for the lack of action with flooding and insurance claims . Now I know they will try and hang this on the neighbouring Townships the County or the Developers – but still our existing engineering staff have done Nothing .
May be if these storm water management ponds that are all over our town where not left as Green space Mosquito breeding areas that smell of stagnant water in the summer months
and turned into more user friendly community space that might be used for skating in the winter
or integrated into a park land area fountain and picnic play area , the rest of the year You Know Beautified by the developer when done rather than fenced off bull rush pond that grows in over time . Make it an asset rather than an Eye sore .

Dunkirk
4 March 2022 9:12 am

There is irony in any process of reporting measurable inefficiencies conducted by a staff whose own performance is intentionally not measured for efficiency.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”-The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald

Ursula
4 March 2022 9:10 am

If the town is serious about managing storm water in the context of climate change, it would implement a property tax where properties with a higher percentage of paved/non-permeable area pay more. ie Huge driveways,concrete decks. Disconnection of downspouts should be mandatory, and the use of green roofs should also be factored into assessing the properties contribution to run-off. The latter being particularly import for commercial and industrial properties. Unless the new costs actually recognize and factor in the contributing factors, we may as well skip the study and just slap on another tax.

Old Sailor
4 March 2022 8:38 am

I think taxpayers would all be interested in a study that reported on the long term sustainability of our town’s key infrastructure parts – like storm water management, sewage water treatment plant, public utilities etc. We don’t want to have more big surprises like the harbour restoration costs which should have been planned for years ago.

cornbread
Reply to  Old Sailor
4 March 2022 9:42 am

At a cost 12 Million dollars, do we really need a new paved and grassed Jetty…If the current one falls apart, the rocks etc. will still be there to have a harbour. Mabe we should put the whole deal on hold for a few years and see what happens. We still will have the beach east and west.

ben
4 March 2022 8:34 am

Hmm let me get my head around this. Storm Water Management, OK here goes.

If the installation of Storm Water drains and ponds is covered by development charges and developer contribution the cost is zero to the taxpayer. So we will be paying for the maintenance of the installed pipes and drains.

So what is the real cost? A “sewer sucker truck” a “camera truck” and the associated manpower to operate these machines. Please correct me if I have missed something. Peanuts in the big scheme of things. It would be interesting to see the line item in the PW budget to see the actuals for last year.

This seems to me to be a clever way to itemise our taxes and then justify yet another charge to the taxpayer. But as pointed out we are already paying for this and we would expect a drop in general taxation.

This topic needs more explanation!!

Note:
If I remember correctly the same tax switch was used to take sewer charges out of general taxation. How did that work out for us? It didn’t; wasn’t long before the promised savings on our tax bills were eaten up by more charges.

Last edited 6 months ago by ben
Bryan
Reply to  ben
4 March 2022 1:57 pm

Ben: Here is some information that may help clarify (sorry for the pun) the situation. Developers don’t typically pay the entire cost of roads, watermains and sewers. It is usually a shared expense with the Town: say 60% development charges, 40% Town. The town typically funds this by debenture, which means the annual debt service is funded by property taxes. Watermain and sewer system maintenance is done primarily by contractors and funded by the water & sewer user fees. The water purification plant and watermains are owned by the Town and operated by Waterworks, a Town business unit. The sewage treatment plants (2) and sewer system are owned by the Town and nominally managed by the works dept. Both services are operated by a contractor: LUSI. some of the work is subcontracted to the private sector. Waterworks and “sewers” submit budgets to Council and are expected to operate on a self-sufficient basis The 2021 “sewer” budget showed revenue of $6.6M, $4.1M in operating expenses, operating surplus $2.5M, Capital expenses $1.4M, Net surplus $1.1M. Reserve fund balances are not provided. The storm sewer system seems too be considered part of the road and is maintained by the works dept. (directly or contractors). Funding is from property taxes or debt. There is a considerable amount of watermain and sewer work included in the Works Dept. capital budget as part of road/street work. Funding is available from several sources: gas tax, OCIF grant, sewer reserve, debenture and LUSI. Note that LUSI is a contractor and has no ability to fund anything. The funding is from Waterworks or “sewer” revenue Some jurisdictions do have storm sewer fees. The suggestion for this is in one of the consultants reports: Watson?? KPMG??. Side note: Don’t rely on the prior year actual data in the budget. The… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Bryan
ben
Reply to  Bryan
4 March 2022 5:43 pm

Bryan – comprehensive and a little confusing. You fail, as does the Town to isolate the Storm Water system (SWM) and who pays, and at what cost, to maintain/construct it, instead lumping it into the “sewer” accounts.

If the proposal is to separate the accounting of the Storm Mgt. system then that is long overdue. Imposing a fee for the use of an intangible system appears to be an accounting miracle.

For a start one should get the cost of the year’s new construction of the SW and see how much came from development charges then look at the actuals from PW to maintain the SW. Split that amount into a SWM reserve for development fees and add it to the actual maintenance cost and then we can start talking about how much the SWM fee should be. If the aim is to fix climate change you can add into it whatever is politically palatable.

PS send me the consultant’s fee

Bryan
Reply to  ben
4 March 2022 5:58 pm

Ben,

I didn’t create the numbers or the system. I can only work with the data provided by the Town.
As regards the SW, I think you are correct. Separate the accounting first so that we have the SW data isolated. Then have the “fee” discussion.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
4 March 2022 7:34 pm

Adding a storm water management fee to everyone’s water bill, if water consumption based, is about as logical as funding the police based on water usage. How often I flush my toilet has rather little to do with storm water. If the fee is to be a fixed surcharge for all water users, I don’t understand how that differs from an equal amount for all residents.

Kevin
4 March 2022 7:58 am

Storm water management is covered by our property taxes. If there will be a direct fee for this will our property taxes be reduced? How far are we going to go with this fee for service? With smart phones it is possible to track everybody’s movements and directly charge them for use of roads and sidewalks. This is would be ridiculously expensive and complicated but it would create some town jobs. Having a consultant look at storm water charges seems like a way to try to increase town staff to collect more fees. Do other municipalities charge directly for storm water? The intent of these studies should be on how to provide the existing services more efficiently. If the intent is to increase revenue then the citizens will be paying more. Tax payers are paying for town staff and a consultant to find out how much more tax payers will have to pay. Doesn’t this seem wrong?

MiriamM
4 March 2022 7:56 am

https://omwa.org/test/

At first I thought storm water management fees only pertained to municipalities where drainage water is sent to a water treatment facility to be treated like sewage water. Cobourg does not do this. But, no. It seems that storm water management fees are directly related to addressing climate change. On the bright side, this will result in higher quality outdoor spaces and access to nature since connected green spaces and waterways will be part of the more resilient blue-green infrastructure needed to keep our communities safer. I hope. Good for the Town to be ahead on this thinking. From link above:

Recent flooding events in Ontario have brought significant attention to stormwater management. As flooding-related damage increases, interest in the legal liability associated with flooding and other stormwater events has grown as well. In light of predictions that climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent and intense, physical damage and liability concerns may prompt municipalities to ask whether, and to what extent, they should adapt their stormwater management policies and infrastructure.

ben
Reply to  MiriamM
4 March 2022 8:37 am

It seems that storm water management fees are directly related to addressing climate change.”

Only consultants and their exorbitant fees could explain this – but not in plain English.

MiriamM
Reply to  ben
4 March 2022 12:38 pm

Good points about transparency and using plain language. Somebody observed to me a while ago that it is prudent to pay attention to what insurance companies identify and predict will be potential risks and liabilities heading towards us. For property that includes extremes in weather, like flooding, fire and high winds, and overall climate change patterns contributing to sea level rise. For my post above I see many have disagreed with my statements. I suppose, as example, how one looks at their real estate investment may affect how they view their own level of risk and risk management. Further, if property insurance becomes very expensive or not available for that lovely home or cottage lakeside, the value may drop and assessment drops and then less tax paid to the municipality. However, it may also be that the municipality may determine it can no longer properly service the property. Sandpiper has a good point about storm management facilities designed and managed to be integral to outdoor public amenities. Ursula made a number of good points also.