by Lindsay Kelly Manitoulin Expositor
NORTHEAST TOWN-The Northeast Town will receive $66,000 in building permit fees from the Northland Power wind turbine project, but critics suggest the number is too low and the town should generate more revenue from the project.
At the April 20 committee meeting, it was divulged that the town did not have a fee structure in place for building permits that would apply to industrial projects such as wind turbines. The current fee in place is $10 for every $1,000 of construction on a project. The purpose of building permits is to recover the cost of the service provided by chief building inspector Tom Spry.
“The essence of permits and fees that we collect is to cover the cost of providing the service,” explained CAO Dave Williamson. “The (Ontario) Building Code is really clear in terms of the fact that those fees have to be reasonable in the circumstances and are designed to collect the dollars to cover those services.”
The structure would not only apply to Northland Power, he added, but any wind turbine company interested in creating a wind farm within the municipality. The rate of $2,000 per wind turbine was deemed a fair price, after staff researched the average costs charged by other municipalities across the province.
Fees ranged from a low of $830 to a high of $5,000, but $2,000 was the most common average, including at larger wind farms on Wolfe Island and in Shelburne. At this stage, the McLean’s Mountain project has been reduced to 33 turbines, which would require less time, Mr. Williamson noted.
“We calculate that it would take between one and a half to two years to complete project, so that’s how much time is involved, in terms of the chief building official’s involvement,” Mr. Williamson added.
There were questions as to whether the fee structure was equitable to the companies, and whether the fee structures are set up based on the size and worth of a given project.
“I think we have to be fair here, especially with the developers of this project, because they’re bringing some economic development to our community,” Councillor Marcel Gauthier said, adding that the town should be sure it is not overcharging the company.
However, it was noted that Northland was agreeable to the fees.
Opponents of the project feel that rate is too favourable to the industry. Ray Beaudry, a spokesperson for the Manitoulin Coalition of Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA), believes the wind companies are getting a “break” on the cost of their building permits, an unfair advantage that the residents of the community don’t enjoy.
“We’re definitely opposed to this,” Mr. Beaudry said. “Why should they get a break? We had to pay the full cost for our building permits, and so does anyone else in this municipality.”
Mr. Beaudry believes the municipality is losing out on revenue, and suggested that there should be a greater charge for building permits for wind turbines, since the wind companies are already getting subsidies from the province.
“Our township has already lost the road use as mandated by the province,” he writes in an email to supporters. “This is probably the only mandated cost NEMI has control over. I don’t believe we should be handing our township to a business, which has a project with known health and environmental impacts, on a silver platter.”
Mr. Beaudry’s views were echoed by some members of council who were concerned that, in a slow construction year, the town could be faced with a deficit in building permit fees.
Councillor Bill Koehler objected to the idea that any deficit would come out of the general tax revenue. “I don’t think the taxpayers should pay one dime for the project to go ahead,” he said.
However, Councillor Al MacNevin compared it to the town’s water system, which is set up on a fee-for-service basis.
“The intent is not to build surpluses and create revenue, because the courts are saying that’s not appropriate,” he said. “Fees for those services, including building permits, should be covered for providing a service, not generating revenue. As soon as it looks like it is then it’s a tax that’s not authorized on building permits.”
If, in a future year, the town discovers that it’s charging too low or too high a rate, however, then the fee can be adjusted accordingly, as it is with water fees, he added.
If there turns out to be too much work for Mr. Spry to do alone-a concern voiced by Councillor Christina Jones-the town will look at hiring a second person to help with the work. In that case, the $2,000 per turbine would still be enough to cover the building inspection services offered, noted Mr. Williamson.
That assurance did not dissuade Councillor Melissa Peters, however, who remained worried that the town could be caught short in a lean year. A more appropriate structure would involved the town charging 1 percent on the building project, as it does with other structures, she argued.
“Basically, we’re charging 1 percent on a total building project for anybody else, and to say differently to any particular group or industry, I feel is wrong, so I won’t be supporting this at all,” she said. “I don’t believe that this is fair to the people of this municipality and that’s who I have to think of first.”
In a recorded vote, Councillors Gauthier, MacNevin, Skippen, Wood, and Mayor Jim Stringer voted in favour of the building permit fees, while Councillors Jones, Koehler, and Peters objected to the structure.
The members will have a second opportunity to vote on the recommendation at the next regular council meeting, when the fee structure will be brought into effect, which is scheduled for May 11.