Pinawa’s Water Utility

Pinawa’s water is about to double in price, and residents have until January 15th, 2019 to submit an objection to the Public Utility Board. Time is of the essence. If anyone would like to do so, the link for filing complaints is http://www.pubmanitoba.ca/v1/contact-us/pub-complaint-form.html, although as of this writing I have annoying received nothing but a server error when trying to submit my carefully crafted submission.  You can also contact the PUB by email at publicutilities@gov.mb.ca and read all of our town’s applications on the PUB website.

Like a large percentage of Pinawa residents, I am now a snow bird. My mail is delayed by a week at best and often by almost a month. I’m lucky to have found out about this increase through Facebook, before the deadline for filing a complaint. Pinawa’s water is about to almost double in price, and I decided to find out why. It has not been easy.

Please scroll to the bottom of this post for a response from Pinawa’s Mayor, Blair Skinner.

The Price of Water

The first thing I wanted to find out was how the cost of our water compares to other municipalities. I figured the best comparisons would be our neighbouring communities, Lac du Bonnet and Beausejour.  The numbers reflected in this chart come from documents posted on-line on the corresponding municipality web sites, and I’ll update them immediately if anyone should let me know if they are outdated or incorrect.

 

Municipality Water and Waste Combined Price per cubic metre
Lac du Bonnet 3.34
Beausejour *2.44
Winnipeg 4.62
Pinawa old rates **2.82  2.95 
Pinawa proposed increased rate 5.92
* The Beausejour number was posted in gallons rather than cubic metres. The conversion to cubic metres is my own math
** This rate is calculated from my own water bill.

It seems we are indeed going to pay a premium for our water. It also appears that we’ve had a pretty good deal for a while now. Pretty good but no steal, as Beausejour still pays less than we were paying.

Our Mayor, Blair Skinner was immediately accommodating when I asked him for an explanation for the increases. He forwarded me this document that I must have received back home in the mail: http://traillady.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/waterinfo.pdf. In essence, the document outlines past operating and infrastructure deficits dating back to 2012 that must now be recouped. Questions come to mind. How were our original rates so far off the mark when we installed the metres in the first place? The original application for this increase was sent to the PUB in 2015. Why has it taken until today to have it approved? Obviously I still had more digging to do.

Fiduciary Duty

Any deficit in operating or infrastructure costs for our water utilities must obviously be documented in our annual audited financial statements, which are all conveniently available on-line at http://pinawa.com/resources/documents/ and located under Municipal Reports. Much to my surprise, the last audited financial statement posted here is 2014. It seems our town is behind in some pretty important financial filings.  I have heard but can’t confirm that the PUB stalled in approving rate increases because of a lack of proper audited financial statements. It occurred to me that maybe it’s common for municipalities to be a few years behind (although that would have surprised me), but I was able to obtain both Lac du Bonnet and Beausejour’s audited financial statements up to 2017 on their respective websites.

We have a bit of a conundrum, don’t you think? The town says we must double our water bills because of deficits yet cannot provide audited documentation of such.  What other surprises await us when the last four years of financial statements finally do get audited? How are we so far behind on something so important?

Jumping to Conclusions

I have sent an email to the PUB, and will continue to try and submit the on-line form, requesting that any increase in our water utility be delayed until the citizens of Pinawa are able to review the audited financial statements up to and including 2017. I don’t believe an accurate increase can be measured without this information, by us, PUB or the town. I also believe that we must exert pressure on the town to audit the financial statements in a timely manner, and perhaps this is one way to do it.

I welcome comments and input on this blog post.

 

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9 Responses to Pinawa’s Water Utility

  1. As Donna mentioned, we have been exchanging many emails over the last couple of days. I would like to add the following information.

    Council is not happy with the timelines of the Public Utilities Board. The timeline was way too short, especially with Christmas Holidays in the period. However, it is the Public Utilities Board process so we don’t have a say.

    Donna has provided a table of comparison of rates with neighbouring municipalities. First, Pinawa’s current rate is $2.95 per cubic metre. LGD staff have been monitoring our neighbours that are going through similar processes and their proposed future rates are similar or, in some cases, higher than Pinawa has proposed. I think it is interesting that our proposed rates are a little more than Winnipeg costs, even thought they have way more users to spread the fixed costs over.

    The most important fact is that in the fall of 2012 when we installed water metres, the assumption provided by industry experts was that our consumption would fall by one third. In actual fact, the consumption fell by one half. Had our original assumption been a reduction of one half, then our water and sewer rates for the last 6 years would have been $4.43 per cubic metre. PInawa water users would have been paying 50% more over the last 6 years and we would have essentially no deficits. As Donna mentioned, “we have been having a pretty good deal for awhile now”

    Donna also included the fact that we got behind in our audits. This is a fact and ended up being a factor in the delay in the Public Utilities Board making a decision. There was a change in accounting standards imposed by the Province of Manitoba in 2012-2013 and that put most municipalities behind. We have taken a while to get back on track. We have been told by our auditors that we will be current (2017 audit) by the end of February, 2019. Work has already commenced on our 2018 audit and it will be completed on time in 2019.

    Blair Skinner January 13, 2019 at 12:35 pm Reply
  2. That rate increase is absolutely unacceptable as is the fact that financial statements are not done in a timely manner. I do business in a number of municipalities in the province and not one is 4 years behind in financial reporting.

    Al Shrupka January 13, 2019 at 1:42 pm Reply
  3. The proposed rates are based on actual audits from 2013, 2014 and 2015. Other municipalities in the area have also proposed increases. http://www.pubmanitoba.ca/v1/proceedings-decisions/orders/pubs/2018%20orders/164-18.pdf

    Gisele Smith January 13, 2019 at 3:31 pm Reply
  4. Pinawa’s current water rate is actually $2.40 per cubic metre and the sewer charge is $0.55 per cubic meter which totals $2.95 per cubic metre.

    Gisele Smith January 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm Reply
  5. Also, the RM of Whitemouth has proposed increases per the following link: http://www.pubmanitoba.ca/v1/proceedings-decisions/pubs/2018%20notices/notice%20of%20application-whitemouth.pdf

    Gisele Smith January 13, 2019 at 3:49 pm Reply
  6. I also heard a rumour that the water will actually triple in cost because there is another request on the table. So I am thinking for years the water was free, we got the meters and we all tightened up on the water consumption. With these increases citizens that care about the trees on their property, gardens, and landscaping which beautifies Pinawa will either have to get a bank loan to take care of things in the summer or forego watering. I am heartsick about letting my trees die but when you are on a fixed income you can’t afford a $600 water/sewer bill (on the current rates) when the new rates come in. Really disappointed in this new cost of living in our community. For all of you out there why did you not know the audits weren’t done?! There was always the CDC AGMs stating this very fact.

    Nancy January 14, 2019 at 11:00 am Reply
  7. When I worked for Community Futures Winnipeg River I served as Secretary for the Regional CAO’s Committee. I recall the issue of the new provincial financial accounting system and the hassles that Councils we’re facing with dealing with it. If memory serves me, the issue with Pinawa wasn’t PSAB but the fact that the entities financials hadn’t been done. Audits for municipalities have to include not just the municipal operations portion but also its entities (i.e. PCDC, W. B Lewis and others). My recollection is that the the adits weren’t completed because the financials for the entities hadn’t been done. The question becomes who does the financials for the entities and why Councils past weren’t more diligent about ensuring that was done.

    Mary Grebr January 14, 2019 at 7:11 pm Reply
  8. …well while a hike like this should be unacceptable by any imagination, it shows a deeply rooted problem in the system. On one hand you encourage people to use less and on the other hand if they use less you charge more. Some communities try to cushioning the effect on their municipal water supply by grands from the tax revenue. Not sure if it would be possible here in Pinawa. Because otherwise it is a simple punishment for being mindful with your water use.
    We (our home) have also used less water since the installation of the “half used smart water meters” because we redirect our sump pump water through 2 x 1000l tanks under the deck with an overflow.
    We have never watered more and also had plenty of two hose water fights in the backyard,…and still have lots of water to be drained at the end of the year.

    Wonder if the chamber opposed this too?…looking at previous issues with water bills from the Club,…is this now the end? …and it is certainly not helping for any other business either.

    Well I did a Pub Complaint just now,…but this just seems to be the way the cookie crumbles.

    Thanks for bringing this up again Donna !

    PS (1): How does this annual rider of 83ct work? Not sure about the term? Year I 2.95+0.83 = 3.78, Year II 3.78+0.83 = 4.61, Year III 4.61+0.83 = 5.44, Year IV = ….6.27 etc. ???

    PS (2): Do we get at least better water quality with the increase? often asking myself should I take a shower to get rid of the pool chlorine or should I jump in the pool to get rid of the tap water chlorine 🙂

    Steffen Bunge January 14, 2019 at 11:38 pm Reply
    • well I figured the ledger out 😉

      Steffen Bunge January 15, 2019 at 6:27 pm Reply

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