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After receiving an updated report from staff at their June 5 meeting, Meaford council voted in favour of having municipal staff assume the responsibility for the operation of the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

The proposal was first brought before council in April as part of the ongoing municipal Service Delivery Review (SDR) initiative that has been exploring the potential for efficiencies and cost savings in more than 60 services offered by the municipality. In addition to the staff report for council's consideration, representatives from the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), the organization that currently operates Meaford's wastewater treatment plant attended the April 24 council meeting requesting that council consider a new proposal from the agency before making a final decision that would end a long-standing relationship. Council agreed to table the report from staff until the June 5 council meeting.

Currently the municipality contracts the operation of the Wastewater Treatment Plant and related pump stations to OCWA. The facility has been operated by contract since 1971, and the current five year contract expires on December 31 of this year. However, the staff report to council suggested that the operation could be handled by the municipality, which already operates the municipal water treatment plant that provides drinking water to urban residents. After considering the revised costing proposal from OCWA, council voted in favour of discontinuing the contract when it expires at the end of this year, and having the municipality assume full operating responsibility for the facility. Municipal staff estimate that the move will save nearly $25,000 per year.

On a five-year contract, the estimated total savings would be approximately $146,000 (no inflationary factors included). It should be noted that we have utilized the same costs used by OCWA within their 2017 budget for Services, less the vehicle costs, which we have based on our proposed costs,” staff told council at their June 5 meeting.

Only Councillor Tony Bell, who requested a recorded vote, voted against the proposal (Councillor Mike Poetker was absent from the meeting).

With the proposal which is before us, I don't think I can vote in favour of doing this,” Bell told his fellow councillors. “I don't see a great amount of savings to be had. We've had OCWA for many, many years, and fellow councillors, OCWA is another arm of responsibility, so that if something does go sideways, there's another name on a piece of paper.”

When asked after the meeting if OCWA would be better able to handle a major incident at the plant given their experience and resources, Meaford's Director of Planning & Building, Rob Armstrong, told The Independent that the services of OCWA, a crown corporation, are always available to any municipality even without a contract, so he was confident that in the event of an emergency beyond the ability of municipal operators to handle, OCWA could be called upon to help.

The decision to discontinue the contract with OCWA will require the hiring of two new municipal employees, a foreperson and an operator, to run the facility. Staff noted that the two current OCWA staff working at the wastewater treatment plant would be welcome to apply for the new municipal positions.