As part of its ongoing coverage of the potential disposition of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc., The Tillsonburg News gave each member of Tillsonburg Town Council an opportunity to respond in 500 words or less to the question: “What is your opinion or position on the disposition of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc.”
Those responses were received, compiled and are presented in order of mayor, deputy mayor and from there, in alphabetical order among the town’s five councillors.
Mayor John Lessif
I can offer no comment at this time as I am awaiting a staff report on the pros and cons of the Tillsonburg Hydro Board’s request to council.
Deputy Mayor Mark Renaud
I am not in favour of selling or merging THI.
THI is a profitable, well-run and efficient electricity distributor which has won awards and accolades for conservation programs, efficiency, community involvement, and for excelling at the requirements of the Ontario Energy Board.
Unlike most local electric distribution companies, THI is a virtual company with no employees. All services and functions are provided for by Town of Tillsonburg employees under a Master Service Agreement. This agreement or MSA, provides important benefits for both parties while ensuring that we have a safe, reliable and efficient power grid within the town's boundaries. Selling or merging THI will necessitate a town-wide restructuring and the need to eliminate staff positions. Selling or merging THI brings an uncertain future with many unanswered questions.
We have a jewel in THI and keeping in the town's ownership and control is most important to me and the residents of Tillsonburg.
Councillor Dave Beres
At the present time and with all the information I have received, I am NOT in favour of any change in sale, amalgamation or disposition of Tillsonburg Hydro.
THI is providing an excellent service and making a profit plus paying a dividend to the town. However, my position as a councilor is to listen to all sides prior to making a decision and that is what will occur at the public meeting. We were elected to represent the needs and desires of the people and not necessarily follow our own agenda.
With many neighbouring utilities choosing to amalgamate or sell, Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. is doing their best to find out why and what is in the best interest for the future of the utility. We have to remember Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. is not a committee of council but a private corporation owned by the customers (shareholder), represented by council.
With that said, the recommendation to investigate the disposition is why council chooses to hold a public meeting to inform the customers of what information and options are available in order to allow council to make a final decision. Our neighbouring communities have not done this.
Many questions will arise at the upcoming public meeting. Questions such as controlling rates, level of service, staff job security, mutual aid, and many more frequently asked questions. All of these will be compiled and answered as well as technical information contained in consultants’ reports which THI has on file. Should you have specific questions which need to be answered prior to the meeting, please ask and they will be forwarded for an answer. All councillors’ email addresses are on the town's website.
Tillsonburg has sold the Special Events Center and given the library service and the information technology responsibilities to other governing bodies during this present council term, which I was not in favour of.
We have to stop disposing of our assets for what appears to be a more attractive bottom line. Bigger is not necessarily better and when it comes to service, it's reassuring to know you can approach your local councillors for the decision-making process. Service is key and that is why our residents choose to call Tillsonburg their home.
Councillor Mel Getty
I support the resolution to examine the disposition of THI.
I have not made up my mind as to what disposition would be best for our community of today and for the future. There are a number of key standards I feel our community has the right to receive from its Electrical Distribution Service: such as the best rate possible, service, dependability and sustainability for the future of our community in residential, commercial as well as industrial growth that will lead to job creation for our citizens.
The electrical distribution industry has changed over the last 12 years. It is far more complex and regulated by the ministry, whereas THI today is virtually the same as it has been for the past 12 years.
THI is a competitive, for-profit corporation. Yet it has a part-time general manager, treasurer and president. The people in these positions have done an admirable job of running THI and maintaining our infrastructure. With the complexity in today’s electrical distribution industry, I question whether running a multimillion-dollar business with part-time officers is efficient.
Without proper research and examination of the documents and articles written regarding the feasibility in maintaining a small, local distribution company and without public engagement, an informed decision cannot be made.
The question before our community is a simple question: “What to do with THI? Sell it, merge with another, or retain ownership of it?”
The means to answering the question is filled with complexities: consultants’ reports, government papers, financial comparisons, independent reports and our own views and emotions.
The obligation we all have to our community is to perform faithfully and completely (study) all research and analysis surrounding the THI issue. We must examine all the pros and cons of possible answers, consider the rippling effect the decision will have on our community today and in the future and then make an informed decision.
This is how I will make my decision.
Councillor Marty Klein
Thank you for your question. You are correct, there is a great deal of interest and if I might add also concern about this issue. The most common are control of rates, loss of control, a continued local presence and security for our staff. I share these concerns. I only joined the hydro board last June and have made a lot of effort to familiarize myself of the operation, its challenges and opportunities. As I understand it, the issue of what is in best interest of THI and the community has been discussed for years.
In January, council received a recommendation from the board to develop an RFP to see if there is interest from other utilities to merge or acquire our utility. Unlike many communities, including two of our neighbours, we chose to bring this matter to an open meeting.
I put forward a motion to defer any vote until after a public meeting and it passed unanimously. Now to your question, I have not made a decision re disposition but I did feel this needed to be examined.
Since the February 27th meeting it has become quite clear that the community feels strongly that THI stay in the community's ownership and as I have said from the beginning, that if that is clearly the community’s wish, then council needs to listen.
Many people have called and emailed me and only a few are in favour of disposition. There are many more, literally thousands we have not heard from. This is why it is very important that the public meeting be well attended. Staff will be presenting a great deal of information. This information will be available to the public well in advance of the meeting. THI belongs to the community and the public meeting is an opportunity to make your views known.
In my view this is the most important decision facing Tillsonburg since downtown redevelopment and it needs to be made by the community. Thank you for this opportunity. If anyone has any questions, they can call me at 519-983-4583.
Councillor Chris Rosehart
I’m all for having public input and I’m all for having more information come forward from our staff.
I don’t sit on the hydro board so I’m not sure of all the ins and outs, all the money that is generated and how it is distributed amongst the town.
I have not made a decision and I will not until I get all the information.
Councillor Brian Stephenson
As a ten-year, three-term member of Tillsonburg Town Council, I am perfectly comfortable with an examination of the operation of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc.
As a consumer I believe that we have received excellent service from Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. The employees on the front line have served us well. An examination of the workings of this business to determine if it is providing the best possible results for the citizens is warranted at this time.
Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. is an offshoot of council. We the councillors represent you the shareholders (customers) and have the final say and vote on decisions made by the board of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. That board is appointed by council on the recommendation of the mayor.
There are nine members that sit on that board – three being members of town council. They meet monthly and are charged with overseeing the operation of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. They bring their budget and major decisions to us for final approval. Recently, after much deliberation they brought a resolution to council that encouraged us to seriously look at the possibility of selling hydro or merging with another provider. I don’t believe they did this lightly.
As a councillor, I have never sat on the Tillsonburg Hydro Board, so I for one welcomed the opportunity to examine carefully its workings to determine what would be best for us as consumers.
I have concerns that the current model is perhaps outdated and not able to provide the overall efficiency and positive returns of an investment of this size. I have been told that there are many parties interested in acquiring Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. as it is and who are willing to pay many millions of dollars to do so.
Now we as town councillors are charged with gaining as much information as we can to determine the best option going forward. There are many factors to consider including the impact on our current employees. Also to be considered is the future impact on the consumers in the kind of service to be received going forward.
I have sought and will continue to seek information from individuals whom I believe can share experience and knowledge on the workings of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. Their input is greatly appreciated.
I remain very open minded as I weigh the pros and cons in this decision-making process. I encourage everyone to follow the discussion and ask questions if you need information.
I currently see us having three options: First- The selling of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. Second - The merger with another provider of hydro. Third - Keeping Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. but changing the basic model to give it an opportunity to provide greater benefits for all of us.
I look forward to the discussions and the sharing of ideas in the days ahead.