Alectra Utilities 'shocks' Hamilton councillors after decision to end water billing services in 2024
Oct. 13, 2021
Hamilton councillors were shocked after discovering Alectra Utilities, without informing the city, decided it would stop providing water billing services to the municipality after its contract with the city ends in 2024.
“This came as a big surprise to us,” said Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the audit and finance committee, during its Oct. 7 meeting.
Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark was equally baffled by the decision by the utility, of which Hamilton is a shareholder. He said Alectra Utilities made the decision at a board meeting May 6 without discussing ending its service with the city.
“I find it incredibility frustrating how they handled it,” said Clark. “It directly impacts our service and our community.”
Of equal concern is that Mayor Fred Eisenberger, along with the mayors of Guelph, Markham, and Vaughan, which Alectra Utilities’ decision will affect, didn’t participate in the board meeting because they declared a conflict of interest.
“I’m shocked that the mayor didn’t have input on this,” said Clark.
John Savoia, a senior policy adviser for the city, said Hamilton has three years to work out an alternative option to provide water billing to customers. He said preliminary discussions have been held with Markham, Vaughan and Guelph representatives about a possibility to find a solution together.
Hamilton has had a contract with the former Hamilton Hydro Inc. to provide water meter reading, billing, payment collections and customer care service since 2001. A follow-up agreement was made with Horizon Utilities following the merger between Hamilton Hydro and St. Catharines Hydro for five years. Several successor agreements were approved over the next decade until 2017 when Horizon Utilities merged with Guelph, Markham, and Vaughan.
Alectra was formed in 2017 when it joined with Enersource, Powerstream, and Hydro One Brampton. The utility, the largest municipality owned electricity utility in Canada, now serves customers in Mississauga, Barrie, Brampton, Simcoe County and York Region, along with Hamilton and St. Catharines.
The water billing contract was renewed between Hamilton and the merged Alectra Utilities in 2020 until the end of 2024 at a cost of about $5.6 million.
The utility provides the water billing services for about 156,000 customers.
“We made the decision to merge our utility with all these others to help us find better efficiencies and maximize our purchase power and the rest of it and then one of the first decisions they come up with is they are going to get out of the practice of water billing for their shareholders,” said Clark. “I find that incredibly disrespectful.”
In a report, Alectra Utilities stated it is ending its service because of the “increasing complexity” of billing customers across 1,800 square kilometres of its territory comprising 17 communities, and a changing regulatory environment, after “reassessing its strategic priorities.”
Clark said Alectra’s board of directors should have at least had the courtesy to inform the city before making their decision.
“It find that incredibly disrespectful,” said Clark. “They should have asked us our opinions and they should have considered it.”The audit committee approved a recommendation to have the chair of the Alectra Utilities board, Norman Loberg, appear before councillors to discuss the decision. Councillors at their Oct. 13 meeting will vote on the decision.