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Innisfil ponders water/sewage partnership

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Town of Innisfil

Town of Innisfil

INNISFIL — The transfer of water/wastewater assets from the Town of Innisfil to InnServices was formalized at a special meeting of council Tuesday night.

InnServices, established earlier this year, is a town-owned company that will provide water and wastewater services to residents and businesses.

Some residents are concerned that the town and InnServices are exploring the potential of a partnership with EPCOR — a utility company owned by the City of Edmonton — that town officials say could generate short-term and long-term revenue for the town, and facilitate expansion of water and wastewater services in Innisfil.

"That work (potential partnership discussions) has not reached a stage where concrete proposals are available for public discussion," town spokeswoman Michele Newton said. "The town would hold public consultations if concrete proposals develop."

Tuesday night's meeting included an almost three-hour long in-camera meeting of councillors around financing options by EPCOR for InnServices, according to chief administrative officer Jason Reynar.

"We have this ultimate challenge of getting water/wastewater out to Innisfil Heights by 2018 and to do that we know we need about $70 million," he said. "The question is, where does that come from? We are exploring all the options to make that work and to make it work as fast as possible.

"We know we have businesses knocking on our door today and have for some time with potentially locating in Innisfil Heights," he added. "We know there is interest there so the sooner we get those employment lands on line, the sooner we can get jobs to Innisfil."

Despite their prolonged behind-closed-doors discussion, councillors did not come to a decision about the financing.

"They deferred it tonight but I think they want just a little more time to consider all the conditions and how it relates to the InnServices side of the equation," Reynar said. "And that's what we'll be working hard on over the next couple of weeks to deal with."

During the open forum portion of Tuesday night's meeting, former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley took exception to the town even considering such a partnership for water and wastewater services and questioned why residents weren't better informed about the potential partnership discussions.

"The issue of selling any part of it is something I'm really concerned about," she said. "My question is, if you are going to sell the safety of water and the protection of Lake Simcoe with wastewater treatment, shouldn't we be talking about that? Shouldn't we be having a conversation with the public?

"I'm not sure if it's good or bad. There's not enough information for people to make a somewhat educated opinion," she added. "It had not come out that clearly."

Innisfil chief administrative officer Jason Reynar said discussions are at a delicate stage.

"We always strive to improve our level of transparency. With these kinds of negotiations, it's a challenge because we want to make sure that we're putting together the right opportunity with the right foundation so that we have something to talk about with the public," he said. "If we go out to the public and say 'We really want to do financing. We'd like EPCOR to be a partner', they say, 'Well, what does it look like? What are the mechanics? What could it look like?'

"And at this point, I can't answer that question. That's what we're trying to figure out," he said.

Baguley — who served on council from 1988 to 2014 as councillor, deputy mayor and then mayor — said she appreciates why some items need to be discussed behind closed doors but added that should be balanced with the public's right to know.

"I don't think we have to know every paragraph in a contract. We need to know the intention and why we need to do this," she said. "I'm not saying I'm for or against (a water and wastewater services partnership). I'm saying I don't understand.

"Ultimately, council will make this decision but I would think most councils would want to have input from the public prior to making such a game-changing decision," Baguley added. "The public, and myself included, deserves to understand why and what the benefits are. They shouldn't have to look for this information. That isn't fair to the residents of Innisfil."

At Tuesday night's meeting, councillors also considered approving the sale of a 50% share of InnPower to EPCOR. The town would receive $19 million, among other benefits, from EPCOR and have equal representation on the board. The sale would also have to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board.

The InnPower shares sale agreement was deferred until the new year when town staff will provide council information relating to InnPower and InnServices.

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