Time to come clean: are water bill payments keeping Ascent afloat?


city_scope_logo-cmykA troubling state of affairs when your water bill payment appears to be the only thing keeping Ascent/St. Thomas Energy afloat.

Of much greater concern is the lack of transparency at city hall and the lack of due diligence on the part of city council.

Let’s start in the finance department where we appear to caught director of finance David Aristone in an awkward moment.

Exactly one year ago, when council dealt with the 2014 consolidated financial statements, that document revealed Ascent Group – 100 per cent owners of St. Thomas Energy – rang up an operating loss of $6.8 million. That compared with a $1.4 million profit in 2013.

Furthermore at the end of 2014, Ascent owed the city another $7.9 million.

We asked Aristone why this outstanding amount.

“We have transactions with them each month because they collect our water bills,” explained Aristone at the time. “So, there may have been outstanding water bills, more than the usual at year end.”

The cost of performing this service was $318,245 in 2015.

AscentAccording to a formal agreement between the city and Ascent signed in April 2014, St. Thomas Energy “will pay to the municipality the water and waste water charges billed to the customers by the end of the month following the date of invoicing.”

So why wasn’t this adhered to?

“They (Ascent) may have had a cash flow issue that they couldn’t pay it to us.”

In that same interview we asked Aristone if that outstanding amount from 2014 had been cleared up as of September 2015.

“All I can tell you is that they are current in 2015,” assured Aristone. “At the year-end last year (2014) they required some more time to pay off water and sewer money they owed us. They are current now.”

Let’s emphasize that. “They are current now.”

So why is it in the city’s 2015 consolidated financial statement we see, in fact, they are far from current and Ascent now owes the city almost $8.3 million from the collection of water bills.

We queried Aristone about this discrepancy and he revealed of that $8.3 million, $6.1 million is debt dating back to 2014.

That does not say they are current to me. And why is this council letting the situation perpetuate? Or, as we opened with this week, are water bill payments the only thing keeping Ascent/St. Thomas Energy afloat?

Now in the 2015 financial statement there is an advisory – confirmed by Aristone – Ascent is making monthly payments of almost $59,000 (including 3 per cent interest) and this note payable is due Dec. 31, 2017.

Do the math and it will be a long way from being paid off at the end of next year.

Even city manager Wendell Graves was stumped on this one.

Seems the term payable on this note is actually 10 years.

Why is that not made clear on the financial statement. Why did no member of council challenge this when it was brought before them on Monday? Did none of our elected officials do the math?

Are Ascent board members, Mayor Heather Jackson and councillors Linda Stevenson and Gary Clarke, afraid to come clean with the true shareholders, city ratepayers?

Why the secrecy?

The current water/sewer bill collection agreement between the city and Ascent is due for renewal at the end of this year. Will members of council start asking questions between now and then.

Let’s start with these questions.

Has a cost analysis ever been done on how much it would cost the city to undertake bill collection on its own? Should this bill collection process be put out to tender as per normal procedure?

Time to ask those probing questions. That’s why you were elected.

Related posts:

Ascent 2015 financial statement will spark your interest

Will tire-kickers appreciate the new, pared-back Ascent model?

Imposed salary cap, hey we can dance around that

Who is in the driver’s seat for St. Thomas Energy merger plan?

Interpreting Ascent deal through our ‘filters’

Sutherland stalling hits ratepayers in the pocket

Ascent sale is finalized, and now ratepayers are waiting for financial disclosure

More comfort needed at Pinafore Park comfort station?

Is Ascent realignment sign of a turnaround at the St. Thomas utility?

A duty upheld on the rarest of occasions

Council waffles on future of cemetery

Over-extended reach ultimately hobbled Ascent

Ascent CEO pulls the plug: resigns as of Sept. 30

From bad to worse over at Ascent

Ascent financial picture a shocker

A return to core business or fire sale at Ascent?

WELL DESERVED

St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell is now a member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, after being inducted to the honour roll at a ceremony at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall Friday Sept. 16 (see Jennifer Bieman‘s story on page 3 of the Sept. 24 edition of the T-J).

The recognition from Governor General David Johnston celebrates Canadian police force members who show outstanding commitment to the profession and exceptional service to their communities.

24jt03pinnelljpg

St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell, left, accepts a member designation to the Order of Merit of the Police Forces from Governor General David Johnston on Friday Sept. 16 at Rideau Hall. Pinnell was one of 51 outstanding law enforcement members recognized at a special ceremony in Ottawa last week. Contributed

“It is a couple things … one is leadership and service within your police service and contributions to policing and the community itself,” said Pinnell in an interview with the T-J.

Worth repeating; exceptional service to the community.

Perhaps this will put an end to the efforts of one St. Thomas letter writer who complains we are not being well served by a police chief who does not live in the city.

It’s not an issue with this country’s governor general.

Related posts:

Proof we can put aside our differences

On a day to remember, someone frankly forgot

 

BETTER LATE . . .

While not fully completed, the city made a wise decision this month to hand over the Railway City Skatepark to those who have waited many years for such a facility. In fact some of them were young kids when discussions first began on a proper park for boarders.

20jt01skateparkjpg

While not fully completed, the Railway City Skatepark has been made available to enthusiasts to enjoy while the finishing touches, including landscaping are completed. Pat Faubert was one of a dozen boarders who took advantage of Monday’s ideal weather conditions to enjoy the much-anticipated facility.

Having talked with a group of them this past week, they are most appreciative of their park. That’s right, it is their park.

This is not a spot where you take the grand kids for a picnic or to feed the birds. So you will see graffiti, you will experience an entirely different culture.

And that’s what prompted several readers to take to the T-J Facebook page – obviously individuals not familiar with the boarder way of life – to post the following.

“And yet some of them felt the need to spray graffiti. I call defacing public property trouble.”

And this, “Wow I can’t believe they have already damaged it. Would think the kids appreciate the park. There always has to be those couple kids that screw things up for everyone.”

We’ll let Miranda M. Robertson respond on behalf of the skatepark community.

“Some people aren’t happy unless they’re poo pooing others. We as a city gave them a skate park, let them paint.”

Related posts:

Social housing director not at home at city hall

A hoped-for sane policy for community funding grants

Don’t worry he’s not throwing in the towel

Tom, Bob talk to us, we’re waiting

Where’s the financial impact of new police HQ?

Skatepark info session likely to open old wounds

Skating around the anger of boarding enthusiasts

City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to imccallum@postmedia.com.

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