Estimated meter readings are water torture for some St. Thomas customers

city_scope_logo-cmykHow’s that water bill of yours? Are you going to have to dip into your savings or line of credit to pay the latest bill?
Some city residents have received much higher bills than normal and we contacted Jim Hogan, president and CEO of Entegrus. The city of St. Thomas contracts out meter reading to the utility who, we find out, subcontracts it to a third party.
According to Hogan, the bills have been estimated readings only for several months and those estimates do not necessarily jive with actual usage.
“It’s kind of a catch-up and a balancing between some of the estimates may be a little high and some were a little low and we’re working hard to get out there to do the actual reads, to verify the actual reads.”
The money collected is then paid to the city on a contractual basis.
According to the formal agreement between the city and Ascent/St. Thomas Energy signed in April 2014, St. Thomas Energy “will pay to the municipality the water and wastewater charges billed to the customers by the end of the month following the date of invoicing.”

The original agreement for water bill reading was with St. Thomas Energy and was for the reading, billing and collection services related to water and sewage charges.
The contract was extended from the end of 2016 through to the end of 2022.


Jim Hogan, Entegrus president/and CEO 

The cost to the city for billing and collection services in 2014 was $294,000. That increased to $318,245 for 2015. In 2016, the figure quoted in a report to council from city engineer Justin Lawrence was $305,965.
No information on whether this agreement was amended when Entegrus took over St. Thomas Energy.
Did no city staff begin to notice any irregularities with payments from Entegrus for this service over the past few months?
To read about how the collection of water bills blew up into a major toilet flush in 2016, you can read this posting

We titled that item, “Time to come clean, are water bill payments keeping Ascent afloat?
In any event, let’s return to the present and our chat with Jim Hogan regarding this third-party company that he did not name.
“A long-standing company who have been in Ontario for a long, long time.
“Just like many businesses, as part of the pandemic and post-pandemic, it’s hard to get good staff. They have been short-staffed.
“It looks like, right now, they’ve got a good number of quality individuals.”
Hogan advises those residents with unusually high bills should contact the St. Thomas office for payment arrangements.
“Our staff is working hard to be proactive, make phone calls to customers, let them know what’s coming and if they need some help, between us and the city we’ve done a pretty good job, I think, in spreading the payments out in partnership with the customer.”
As I am led to believe, Entegrus is allowing up to three months to pay down the balance.
Following on the heels of Christmas and for those on a fixed income or in a one-income family, is this a long enough period of grace?
And don’t forget the city is contracting this service out to Entegrus, will staff step in and offer relief in extenuating circumstances?
What is Entegrus doing to ensure the third-party contractor doesn’t drop the ball again?
Hogan assures updated meter readings are to be undertaken this month to get customers aligned with their actual usage.

Related post:


As noted in this corner last week C.J. Allen, chair of the Good Vibes Community Association (GVCA) board of governors appeared before city council Monday in a deputation dealing with several areas associated with community events.
We’ll focus on one area of the presentation related to his experience hosting the inaugural Summer Harvest Festival at Pinafore Park.
Allen opened by stressing his findings are not a reflection of any individual staff member but rather the current system they are working with.
C.J. Allen“As a non-profit volunteer association preparing for our first large-scale event, that being the Summer Harvest Festival in September 2022, the special event permit process was one that we took very seriously.
“From our application to our letter requesting municipal significant event status, our administration and finance chair Jennifer Nace was meticulous in ensuring our presentation and documentation were unquestionable and faultless.
“Our meeting for special event committee approval and the issuing of our special event permit were milestones that we held our breath and pulled our hair out over for months.”
If Allen thought it would now be clear sailing ahead, it was not to be.
As he recounted to council, “In the months that followed though, while we anticipated our own potential missteps, and feared there was something we had missed, we were instead faced with roadblocks in the process of fulfilling our programming, rather than any of the bureaucracy we had completed.
“And we learned this was because, to be blunt and eloquent, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.
“Some of the issues we faced were calendar confusion, confusion about rental rates, insurance, the bandshell electricity and electrical box and conflicting messages regarding live performances downtown on city property and some of the downtown businesses.

“This is a matter I hope council will take a particular interest in advance of the spring and summer when the event calendar will begin to fill up.”

“Members of council are largely already aware of the details of these issues so rather than beat a dead horse so to speak or lay fault at the feet of civic stakeholders, I use these matters to encourage city council to direct staff to review the special events system in place so that one individual is solely the intermediary or liaison between the community wanting to organize events and city hall in order to eliminate redundancies, conflicting policies or perceived last-minute obstacles that have the potential to send an event into a tailspin.
“This is a matter I hope council will take a particular interest in advance of the spring and summer when the event calendar will begin to fill up.
“I do, once more, emphasize that this is not a staff issue. The GVCA thanks all departments for their support and cooperation and helping us to make Summer Harvest Festival, now just to be called Harvest Festival, a huge success for GVCA and the community.
“We continue to receive compliments through residents and the community. In fact, Coun. (Tara) McCaulley just this past Friday forwarded a message to me from someone from outside of our borders who expressed that she wished she lived in St. Thomas so she could be part of our community because of Harvestfest.
“So, what can council do?
“GVCA would like to ask and recommend to council that in order to facilitate and check the box, so to speak on item Number 1 under Vibrant Community (in the city’s strategic plan) that council permit recognized, vetted and incorporated local community associations and organizations who meet a specific, yet-to-be-determined criteria to make use of city-owned spaces free of charge and likewise, costs incurred by these organizations such as the allowance for power at the Pinafore Park bandshell be either reimbursed to the organization or that the city, in an electrical contract, to alleviate the burden of these expenses.
Further, that the electrical box at the Pinafore Park bandshell, which in our experience is privately owned, be bought by the city and that it also be complimentary for local groups.”
A thought-provoking deputation on the part of Allen, leaving council and staff plenty to mull over.
We can only hope when that process is complete, an action plan will be brought forward incorporating his observations and recommendations so that Pinafore Park and other venues are bustling this summer and in seasons to come.

Related post:

C.J. Allen delegation to St. Thomas council Monday to focus on “bureaucratic and redundant red tape and restrictive bylaws”


The Rural Ontario Municipalities Association (ROMA) is holding their annual conference in Toronto at the beginning of next week with St. Thomas sending a delegation comprised of Mayor Joe Preston, Coun. Gary Clarke and city manager Sandra Datars Bere.
As noted last week, the delegation has meetings confirmed with the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Elgin County Courthouse

The latter is to urge the province to improve the bail system to reduce repeat offender rates and increase community safety.
The city’s 2023 Provincial Advocacy Plan notes, “Police services across Ontario, including the City of St. Thomas Police Service (STPS), are exhausting precious time and resources having to manage the repeated arrests of the same offenders because of ‘catch and release’ policies.”
Because of this, there is a decrease in charges in other areas because officers cannot allocate sufficient time to the core functions of policing.
According to STPS figures, there has been a 73 per cent increase in thefts and possession of stolen property over the past five years, from 472 instances in 2017 to 817 in 2022, noting fourth quarter stats from last year are not included.
The break-and-enter stats are even more dramatic. A total of 118 events five years ago to 265 last year.
And a 59 per cent increase in arrests in the past five years, with 1,988 last year compared to 1,250 five years ago.
The city’s advocacy plan stresses, “Long-term reductions in crime require that both upper levels of government invest significantly in addressing the systems-level issues that contribute to offending including poverty, inadequate health services for mental health and substance use, food insecurity and housing affordability.”

“We need a broader and more creative set of solutions, including non-police mental health response teams triaged through police communication centres.”

The plan notes the need for changes to the current 9-1-1 system.
“There is an urgent need to add specialized interventions to the continuum of care for people with complex mental health and substance use disorder needs.
“Currently, the majority of mental health-related crisis response in Ontario is primarily left to the police and hospital EDs.”
An example is cited in the plan related to the STPS Mobile Outreach and Support Team (MOST).
These two mental health clinicians provide support in approximately 40 per cent of the more than 2,000 mental health-related calls for service in St. Thomas.
The remaining 60 per cent of crisis-related calls are handled by officers.
“Police responding to these types of crisis-related calls have been shown to contribute to adverse outcomes.
“We need a broader and more creative set of solutions, including non-police mental health response teams triaged through police communication centres.”
The city’s call to action from the Attorney General’s office is “imposing more substantive and effective consequences for continued breaches of a judicial interim release order.”


As noted in this corner last week, the city’s delegation to the ROMA conference is also meeting with the Ministry of Transportation to talk about regional and accessible transit options.                                                                                                    In August of 2019, then MPP Jeff Yurek announced $1.8 million in funding for transit projects in St. Thomas. Part of that funding would be used to purchase up to 14 new buses. Additionally, the city was being nominated for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), a $30 billion, 10-year infrastructure initiative cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Transit funding jpg

In August 2020, it was announced St. Thomas would receive $4.6 million in federal funding to help with the purchase of those 14 buses which would be zero-emission vehicles.
Environmental Services director Justin Lawrence has advised council that such vehicles in a smaller configuration for the city’s needs are not available at this time.

“One is city transit and the improvement of city transit rather than regional transit. I am so anxious to get this done, I am even agreeing that St. Thomas will take the lead on regional transit if the province will back-stop us.”

So, can some of the above provincial funding be redirected toward a much-needed regional transit pilot project?
We put that to Mayor Preston on Friday (Jan. 20) before his departure to Toronto for the conference.
“I would like to use it (the funding) for that project (the electric buses). It’s one of the asks I will ask of the minister (of transportation).
“Is this (regional transit pilot project) something you would allow us to use for this?
“And, if so, how would we go about getting it back at the time when there are electric buses that we can use?
“I do plan to say we are sitting on a fair bit of (money). But two differences here.
“One is city transit and the improvement of city transit rather than regional transit. I am so anxious to get this done, I am even agreeing that St. Thomas will take the lead on regional transit if the province will back-stop us.
“The largest two communities in the southwest Ontario region aren’t connected (with public transit) so we know we have got to get this done.
“One of the things we asked a while ago was could this be a GO (Government of Ontario Transit) bus run?
“And I will ask that same question first. If the minister wants to assign this as a GO pilot project, I don’t care.
“I’d rather not our people have to run it, I would much rather that. But we can’t wait longer.”

Related post:

From ‘beyond broken’ to a transit system St. Thomas can be proud of

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