PARRSBORO – The Municipality of Cumberland has found a way to pay for a cost overrun of more than $4 million with the Parrsboro wastewater treatment system.
“I think it works for us, but I still think we’re paying for something that didn’t need to happen,” Dawn McCully, resident and former Parrsboro city councilor, told the SaltWire Network. “If anything, I hope there are valuable lessons learned from what happened. The public needs to pay more attention and be more involved in our council. Things like this shouldn’t not happen behind closed doors without people knowing about it.
The municipality has received an increased financial capacity grant, formerly called equalization payments, from the provincial government and places the money in a capital reserve account to pay sewer system loan payments.
Several years ago, and shortly after the Town of Parrsboro dissolved and amalgamated with the Municipality of Cumberland, the County Council announced plans to build a new sewage treatment plant to stop the flow of sewage. sewage in the Bay of Fundy.
There was federal and provincial financial support for the project, but it went over budget by about $4.4 million and Parrsboro ratepayers said they would be responsible for the extra cost. In the face of public opposition, the municipality initially agreed to pay half of the overage through general revenue, leaving users to pay the other half by paying a lump sum of $5,000, a fee $345 annual or monthly payments.
Under the proposed solution, which will be formally approved following a county rule change, Parrsboro ratepayers will have to pay just one year of construction costs and those who paid the full amount will receive a refund for all but one. year.
Cumberland County Mayor Murray Scott said the situation in Parrsboro is something his council has been working on since taking office in November 2020.
Scott said the solution should ease much of the pressure on Parrsboro residents, especially those on low and fixed incomes.
“It’s something I really wanted to solve. I sat at the kitchen tables with many people who literally cried because they were faced with these insurmountable costs. They didn’t know where they were going to get the money,” Scott said. “It fell on them and they had no say in it. I just hope we found a way to move on and put this behind us.
Carrie Goodwin, who represents the Parrsboro area on the county board, said the sewer problem has been the dominant issue since her election in 2020. She hopes this will change the way the county deals with capital projects at the to come up.
“How will the capital projects be communicated to the community as we can learn from our mistake and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.
Goodwin said the local improvement tax was going to be a tough pill for residents, some of whom live below the poverty line, to swallow. Having a $5,000 lien placed on their properties threatened to push some of them overboard. She said it was also a significant cost for people with multiple properties and businesses.
“It was the little guys who suffered the most,” Goodwin said.
When the project was first proposed, County Director of Engineering and Operations Justin Waugh-Cress said in May 2020 that the cost was estimated to be around $8.8 million. That’s the amount the county was supposed to receive through the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, but the actual price was about $12.67 million. The project had to be completed by 2020 in order to meet the federal compliance deadline and not lose access to wastewater funding.