The gauntlet has been thrown down as two municipal councils will prepare to lock horns in an arbitration process over the delivery of regional sewage service.
Trail city council has notified the province it will begin the process of arbitration with the City of Rossland to determine the correct percentages of shared costs for sewage service in the Greater Trail region.
Last week Trail council took a hard line and supported final proposal arbitration, opening the door to third-party resolution. The motion to go to arbitration was passed unanimously.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion on this already,” said Mayor Dieter Bogs.
And more is to come. The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (CSCD) advised in a May 10 letter to council that arbitration in the long-running dispute between the two municipalities was the only recourse left.
For four years the question of who pays what portion of the cost of sewer service among Trail, Rossland and Warfield has been booted around like a political football. Trail currently pays close to 70 per cent of the regional budget following a formula created in the late 1960s, based mostly on population and projected growth.
Settling the matter through arbitration does not sit well in the mountain kingdom. But once one side requests dispute resolution assistance, it sets in motion the required actions by the dispute resolution officer.
Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom said the legal price for the process will far outweigh the cost difference quoted in the proposal — around $20,000.
“The whole thing to me is a bit silly,” Granstrom said. “We believe we made a very honest proposal and we, quite frankly, didn’t even get the opportunity to sit face to face, which we were very disappointed with.”
He said there were misconceptions sewage was a regional district service, when it was a private agreement between three parties, with the regional district as the contractor.
Those discrepancies could come out in the arbitration process and skew the outcome.
“It is in the best interests of the three parties to come to an agreement on this. We’re not looking for a fight,” said Granstrom. “We’re looking to get this solved and we see no need for an arbitrator.”
But Trail council set the wheels on the road for arbitration when they passed a motion on the application to request a dispute resolution officer appointment. Even though an officer is appointed the two municipalities may still negotiate a settlement.
In early April Rossland council dismissed an eleventh-hour attempt from Trail to avoid arbitration. Trail council had drafted a cost sharing proposal based on population, though it previously agreed with a mediator report that suggested the old formula was unfair, and a new formula should be based on 50 per cent population and 50 per cent water consumption.
However, Rossland council made a counter proposal in April that wasn’t in line with the mediator’s recommendation, claiming Trail should pay 62 per cent of the regional service instead of the 59 per cent the mediator suggested.
That proposal versus the population proposal from Trail would have the city coming up with a further $20,462 per year. Rossland council also felt Trail should be responsible for 62 per cent of the sewer interceptor line capital costs.
Trail council has asked the CSCD to deal with the matter prior to the end of 2012 so any changes in cost apportionment would be reflected in the 2013 budget.
As well, Trail council will be seeking retroactive financial compensation as part of the settlement given that other parties “seemingly unreasonably delayed the process and eventual settlement,” read a memorandum from Trail chief administrative officer David Perehudoff.
The memo also noted Trail council may seek independent service options to the regional service unless the service was appropriately designed and provided the cost sharing deemed to be fair.
“(I)t may be in the city’s best interest for a community such as Rossland to develop their own option for this service as they seemingly have issues with this and other services that require regional cooperation and associated funding,” Perehudoff noted in his memo to council.
The final straw
The three municipalities underwent a service review in 2008 in an attempt to arrive at a consensus to resolve the dispute, formulating a fair allocation of costs as they related to what service each community received.
However, when that was not acceptable a mediation process was instituted in 2011 — through George Paul of Community Solutions Incorporated — that also proved unsuccessful.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, who has been attempting to resolve the ongoing dispute, had asked the CSCD to declare the dispute a prescribed matter suitable for binding arbitration under the Community Charter.
In March, Ida Chong, CSCD minister, wrote Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom requesting binding arbitration, despite Rossland and Warfield’s opposition to the process.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has recommended the matter go to the province in hopes of finding a resolution this year, though the financial implications will not be taken into effect until 2013.