City councillors will get a third party, independent analysis of the prospect of EPCOR taking over the drainage branch from the city. It was a much closer vote than what Coun Bryan Anderson suggested early in the debate when he said, “where the hell’s the down side?”
EPCOR CEO Stuart Lee told council this is a transfer not a sale. “Same city jeans, different pockets.”
The proposal would see EPCOR assume the assets, the debt, and the liabilities, and in return they’re confident they can grow the business, and reduce capital costs on the $200 million a year business returning ten percent to the city’s bottom line on an annual basis. The extra $20 million dividend would be on top of the $141 million one on the books in 2016.
Lee said the experience of other transfers, including the Goldbar waste treatment move in 2005 shows they can do what they say they’re going to do.
“We’ve kept the staff that were there that we agreed to, so I think Goldbar is a good example that we’ve been able to step in and deliver on those promises.”
“I think if you look at the water utility, it has some of the lowest rates in western Canada, we’re twenty percent below Calgary. We have excellent maintenance of those assets, exceptional water quality and we pay a dividend to the city from that asset.”
“So if you stand back and take a look at our track record, at managing this city’s utilities I think we do a very good job,” Lee said.
The vote was 7-6. With Coun. Mike Nickel among others suggesting that future one in one hundred year storms could leave tax payers in a lurch. “Putting another bureaucracy in between me as a councillor who has flood mitigation problems and throwing it to EPCOR, how is that going to reduce… costs? I just do not see that.”
“Even though it’s just information analysis, I just believe it just opens a door that I’m not willing to go down,” said a skeptical Coun. Bev Esslinger.
Coun. Dave Loken sees too much on council’s plate. “Two major projects that are still in the works, that we still need to proceed on, those being Blatchford and the decision surrounding Northlands.” He also said this report would probably spill into the 2018 election campaign.
Council will review the analysis in the fall, prior to a public hearing.