The municipal council in Ormstown has adopted a balanced budget forecast for 2022, which introduces a hefty three-year capital program designed to address the water issues that have plagued the town for years.
The municipality will spend around $14.3 million combined over three years on an aqueduct network intervention plan and the construction of a new water filtration plant. About two-thirds of the expense is expected to be subsidized by government grants. A study is already underway regarding the filtration plant, and the municipality has promised to hold a public consultation on the major infrastructure project before any final decisions are made.
Mayor Christine McAleer says the situation with the aqueduct network has reached a critical point, and the council felt it was left with little choice but to address the problem head-on. The municipality issued four boil water advisories in January alone due to water main breakages. Engineers have identified a section in the older part of the municipality as a “code red.”
“Right now, we are just patching, patching, patching,” says McAleer of the costly temporary repairs being made to the deteriorating pipes. Current upkeep of the system costs the municipality over $250,000 a year, she says, suggesting the situation is no longer sustainable.
Municipal taxes to rise
McAleer admits major residential development projects planned in the municipality are accelerating the need to address the water situation quickly, as some reports have suggested the fragile system may not cope with the additional pressure.
She says a common misconception is that development will increase the tax base to then pay for services. Growth within the municipality has come with additional expenses, she explains; “Things have to be done in a certain order. Water has to come first.” The mayor also points out matter-of-factly that an increase in tax revenue alone will not meet these necessary expenses.
“Over the years, the tax rate has gone down and there have been no previsions made for this work,” McAleer says. The municipality has introduced a “very modest tax increase to try to even out the budget,” she admits. On average, Ormstown residents will face a 4.4 per cent increase, which McAleer points out will still be less than the rate in place in 2006.
To help residents manage, the municipality has introduced a schedule of four payments, and McAleer says they hope to be able to offer citizens the option of making monthly contributions by next year.
Prioritizing the environment
“The main thing that is occupying us right now is the water,” says McAleer. “But we are still mindful of the services we want to offer,” she explains, which is why there are funds set aside for a water park in 2023, for example.
Counter to a certain perception, the council is also not anti-development; rather, it is for responsible development that factors in the protection of the environment. “We want to work with the promoters,” McAleer says, while signaling a shift in orientation for the municipality. “The environment is a priority,” she insists, suggesting they want to ensure that efficient housing as well as green and recreational spaces are included in residential development plans.
“We want to be involved in the discussion,” she says, noting the municipality will be reviewing its zoning by-laws to ensure they are more ecological and environmentally friendly. Steps will be taken to protect the land, rivers and waterways, wildlife, natural resources, and the unique architectural character of the municipality.
The environment will also factor heavily in the municipality’s approach to the water issue, says McAleer, who admits sewage management will be part of the plan. According to the Fondation Rivières organization, Ormstown dumped a portion of its raw sewage directly into the Chateauguay River on 59 occasions in 2020.
“Everything is going to centre on water in the next couple of years,” McAleer says, while insisting another priority will be involving residents in the many decisions the council will make as it navigates out of its water problems.