Immediate WUC Judicial Inquiry Required
I assume that this must be our attitude with respect to Council and the ongoing Windsor Utilities Commission fiasco. If it had all been done properly in the first place with a forensic audit by an independent third party, I would not have had to write this BLOG. The matter would have been properly investigated and Windsorites' questions answered.
Instead, we had the Council manoeuvering to prevent citizens from appearing as Delegations, the steps taken to prevent the Provincial Auditor General from acting, the Mayor's Whiteboard presentation, and the limited section 9 Ministry whitewash audit.
And now we have more questions raised that lead to a need for a Judicial Inquiry, not another whitewash audit, the results of which we are still waiting. Council has no excuse for not acting properly this time around. Or does the Ministry have to be pressured again to undertake a section 10 audit?
Let me set out first what the Municipality can do under the Municipal Act:
- 274. (1) If a municipality so requests by resolution, a judge of the Superior Court of Justice shall,
(b) inquire into any matter connected with the good government of the municipality; or
(c) inquire into the conduct of any part of the public business of the municipality, including business conducted by a commission appointed by the council or elected by the electors. 2001, c. 25, s. 274 (1).
Accordingly a simple Council Resolution brings in a judge who can look at the relationship amongst Enwin, WUC and City Council and can look at the affairs and the business conducted by WUC. We can finally get the truth.
Notwithstanding the big fight at Council between the Ward 3 Councillors, there is a very close relationship between Enwin and the WUC. It was conclusively proven when the Enwin spokesperson wrote the Letter to the Editor of the Star on behalf of WUC. I'm not going to go into a big explanation stating the obvious. Enwin and WUC belong to Taxpayers.
We need to understand what monies have gone into and out of those entities and where those monies have gone. We need to understand the decision-making taking place at both of those organizations and how they impact taxpayers. We need to understand who is making the decisions and why.
There's a lot of money at stake. We are looking at over $800 million in watermain replacements. Huge water levy and sewer levy increases have an immediate impact on families in the City and there are negative for new businesses to move here. They also supply significant amount of cash for someone to use as well with the sewer surcharge levy that goes to the City considering that the money does not all go for sewers as I have Blogged before. It is obvious that the budgets are not viewed in as much detail by our City Council Budget Committees since they are the budgets of a Commission and an incorporated entity.
I wrote a BLOG the other day asking where all the capital funds went that were supposed to be invested in watermains. There is something else that I was told by one of my readers. Is it true or not, I do not know and it might be something for the traditional media to investigate. All I was told by Sylvia DeVries was
- "Thank you for your email enquiry regarding MaXess Networx. Please be advised that EnWin does not comment on matters that are speculative or rumour driven in nature."
Here is the news tip:
- The Maxess fibre optics business has been sold for an amount between $15-$20M or is in the process of being sold. The buyer is a major communications company.
If you did not know, Maxess is a division of Enwin.
If this tip is true, then my question is where did all that money go or where will it go? Who is using it and for what purposes?
But that is not the reason for my request for judicial inquiry. Did you read the BLOG of Chris Schnurr on Monday? He has revealed some startling information:
1) The Swain report.
The Star reported it this way:
- "We've got 100 years' worth of construction coming due in the next decade," said Swain.
"It's a huge problem. We've got time to do it right, we can do it without hideous price shocks, but we can't delay."
Swain believes 30 years of under-investment in water and waste water infrastructure must be addressed and the actual cost of water be reflected in the prices charged the consumer.
"If consumers get faced with the full costs of their consumption they will modify their behaviour accordingly," said Swain."
Obviously back in September, 2005 it was clear to WUC that consumers were going to be faced with a huge cost increase yet nothing was done! Why not?
The Inquiry needs to look into the role that "politics" played in this matter. Remember that when the WUC matter first broke the Mayor blamed it all on politics You remember that in 2005 the Mayor in fact wanted a rate reduction.
What is more disturbing however is that WUC seems to take great pleasure in the fact that it was able to offset "the attack on increased water pricing." How did they do it? Through their "strong media relations that support our initiatives... in return for our support of the reporting needs and our ability to provide easy access."
Again, the Inquiry needs to ask what this means. Is this a you scratch my back, I scratch yours approach to the relationship between the media and City Hall organizations to the detriment of the public interest?
Was the media compromised? If so, this is a shocking indictment in which certain members of the media ought to be ashamed. We need to know if the media gave us the straight goods or not and was this approach reflected in other relationships.
2) Pipe line realigning pilot project.
The Inquiry must examine why this technology and other alternatives were not examined before water rates were increased. Is there a reason why the Commission only discussed this matter in November? Had the whitewash Auditors started their examination of the Commission at this time or was their work already done? If the latter, the question to ask is why the discussion was taken afterwards.
If this technology makes sense, then why aren't rates being decreased now?
3) The consultant
The consultants hired at great fanfare and who put on a performance at City Council during the fiasco were told to close their file.
The Inquiry should investigate why such a step was taken. In the Earth Tech/Watson report there was an expectation of a further study to take place:
- "the Commission may wish to further evaluate different rate options. It is expected that this will be undertaken during the next phase of the study."
Why all of a sudden was there no need to look at the different rate options other than a massive price increase. Was this report merely undertaken to satisfy statutory requirements and then to be ignored by the Commission who have their own ideas about what citizens should pay for watermains?
The Inquiry would need to understand why the Commission in effect dismissed the consultants. I have real trouble understanding why that was done given some of the issues that the consultants discussed that could impact what the water rates were to be in future.
Such things to be examined included:
- recommendations related to general accounting and financial principles for the water system
- amendment of current practices policies and bylaws and development of new policies and bylaws
- review and commentary on the fiscal relationship between the Commission and the City in the area of debt, debt capacity and debt handling and to make recommendations for alternate approaches
- the development of an Asset Management System Development and the implementation of Trenchless Technology applications that could reduce infrastructure replacement needs in the 10% range so as to smooth out potential water rate increases and reducing reserve needs
- implementation of an Unaccounted for Water program to reduce the 21% in water losses (part of this loss is in the treatment process but Windsor's losses are about 3.5% to 4.5% higher than the industry norm)
- creating water efficiency programs including leak detection as alternative to developing new water supplies in expanding treatment facilities
- various ways to finance capital construction including the use of debentures so that future users of the system actually pay for it.
There was a huge outcry after the rates were increased, the consultants were paraded before Council and citizens and then the Commission dismissed them leaving outstanding subject discussed above.
Some more questions are raised with respect to the Banwell Reservoir and pump station. That Reservoir and a proposed elevated water tower were factored into the costs over the 100 year lifecycle analysis. Yet now we learn that the environmental assessment for the Reservoir has been deferred. The Inquiry officer should look into this matter is well.
Shouldn't rates decrease if this capital project is deferred for who knows how long. Or is it "politics" again? Will we face a huge financial disaster in the future when we have to build the facility immediately in a crisis situation?
Perhaps everything is all right. Perhaps everything is all wrong. Perhaps there's a bit of this and a bit of that. The problem is no one knows, a whitewash audit will do nothing for us and more and more issues are coming to the forefront.
There is only one way to get the truth and that is with a Judicial Inquiry. Let the Municipality call one finally under the Municipal Act and let's get the WUC matter off the table and resolved. Do the Councillors have the guts to do so?
We are not talking about pennies but hundreds of millions of dollars of perhaps unneeded expenditures. Now you know why the City needs an Auditor General now!