Cumberland council voted Monday against spending $7,500 to hire a communication consultant to help the community understand mock water bills.
The first mock bill — designed to give customers an idea of what they would pay with new volumetric (consumption-based) water rates — is set to come out in August and will be based off April to June meter readings. Council set the rates for the mock bills in June.
These rates are unofficial, and council is expected to make a final decision on water rates near the end of this year. One more mock bill is set to come out this fall.
Village staff recommended hiring a consultant, using Community Works Funds, to help the Village communicate with users as the mock bills are rolled out. Village CAO Sundance Topham noted that the person would develop a comprehensive communication plan, including informational material that would go out with the mock bills and a survey so council would have feedback before making its final decision on water rates later this year.
He added time is an issue for Village staff, and, noting community confusion around the organics program as an example, he said staff would like to learn how to better communicate with residents.
Coun. Roger Kishi made a motion to spend $7,500 on a communication consultant, and though Mayor Leslie Baird and he voted in favour of it, the motion was defeated as Couns. Kate Greening and Conner Copeman voted against. Coun. Gwyn Sproule was absent.
Kishi said he is concerned the “process will be fraught with difficulties” without comprehensive communication around not only mock bills, but also the entire water rate plan for the Village.
Baird agreed, noting staff are “overloaded” with work now. She added no matter what decision council makes on rates later in the year, she wants to ensure the community understands the issue, and that council can receive adequate feedback from the community before it makes that decision.
Greening said the process is “rushed.” She wants to send out mock water bills for one year instead of for two quarters, and hold off on making a decision about water rates.
Copeman said he is “uneasy” with spending $7,500 on a consultant for different reasons than Greening. He said most people know about the matter already, and those who don’t likely wouldn’t pay more attention with extra communication than they would when they receive their mock bills.