Sewer service dispute – Trail council supports arbitration

Trail council voted to formally support final proposal arbitration in the municipal sewer dispute with Rossland.

A local municipal disagreement on the shared cost of sewer services has spilled over into the provincial arena after one city council flushed away recent proposal recommendations.

After Rossland city council dismissed an eleventh-hour proposal from Trail city council in early April in an attempt to avoid arbitration, the Silver City council was quick to reply.

On Monday night during their regular meeting Trail council voted to formally support final proposal arbitration under the “Community Charter” — as suggested by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (CSCD) — and asked the matter be dealt with by the province prior to the end of 2012.

“I really, sincerely believe we have to push this process along and take it to the point of arbitration and get it done with,” said councillor Kevin Jolly.

“We’ve done everything we possibly can to reach an agreement.”

He further suggested, given the loss to the taxpayers of Trail, they should be looking at recovering some of the money the city has paid in extra costs.

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 is currently paying close to 70 per cent of the regional budget following a formula created in the late 1960s, based mostly on population and projected growth.

Last month Trail council drafted a 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.

The refusal of Trail’s proposal and the counter proposal surprised councilor Robert Cacchioni.

“I actually was led to believe that this was exactly what they wanted,” he said. “Not only was it what they wanted, they asked for it and we provided it. It was never intended to be another negotiation.”

That proposal versus the population proposal would have the city coming up with a further $20,462 per year, said Trail chief administrative officer David Perehudoff. He noted Rossland felt Trail should be responsible for 62 per cent of the sewer interceptor line capital costs.

“When all of these issues are considered … it is very apparent now there is no opportunity to reach an agreement here,” Perehudoff told council. “There are a lot of compromises that the city has already made.”

He also suggested no further action be taken with attempt to negotiate a settlement. However, he noted full-on arbitration comes with a significant cost because of the complexity of introducing evidence and retaining legal counsel.

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.

“It is clear to me that the potential solutions perceived by Rossland and Trail are mutually exclusive, whereas Warfield would be comfortable with any reasonable solution,” Paul wrote in his final report in November.

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.