Hamilton

'This was our utility': Alectra will stop handling Hamilton water bills

Hamilton city councillors say Alectra Utilities has blindsided them after the massive utility says it's too busy to continue delivering local water bills.

The city has until the end of 2024 to find another way to bill people for water

Alectra Utilities says it won't handle Hamilton's water billing after 2024. (Chris Seto/CBC)

Hamilton city councillors say Alectra Utilities has blindsided them after the massive utility says it's too busy to continue delivering local water bills.

The utility, which formed in 2017 when Horizon Utilities merged with four others, says it has too large an area to cover and too much to do to keep handling water billing, city staff said last week.

So, even though Hamilton will pay Alectra $5.6 million this year to deliver water bills, Alectra says it can't do it after the contract expires in December 2024.

That left councillors — most of whom were in favour of the merger — venting.

"This was our utility," said Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) at an audit, finance and administration committee meeting last week. "And then we merged it under the agreement that this was going to improve efficiencies and do all these wonderful things."

Mayors give a thumbs up in 2016 after signing an agreement to merge three power companies to form Ontario's second largest electricity distribution company. From left: Jeff Lehman of Barrie, Frank Scarpitti of Markham, Maurizio Bevilacqua of Vaughan, Bonnie Crombie of Mississauga, Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, Fred Eisenberger of Hamilton and Walter Sendzik of St. Catharines. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"I find it incredibly disrespectful how it was done."

The city is a shareholder of Alectra, which is the second largest utility in North America. Mayor Fred Eisenberger was paid $41,250 last year to sit on the board, but had to declare a conflict of interest on the water billing vote.

"I'm shocked that the mayor didn't have input on this," Clark said.

Clark wasn't alone in his surprise. Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) described Alectra's move away from water billing as "pulling the rug out from under us."

John Savoia, a senior policy advisor for the city, said Guelph, Markham and Vaughan are in the same situation. Hamilton has been talking to the three to see about joining forces for water bill delivery, he said.

Alectra Utilities is the second largest utility in North America. (Alectra Utilities)

Alectra spokesperson John Friesen says the company has to back away from water billing because of "increasingly complex electricity billing." The city would be better off with a company that specializes in water billing service, he said. 

"Due to the ongoing evolution of the electricity industry as well as customer expectations, and the need to modernize our billing technologies and customer engagement channels to accommodate numerous new government-mandated programs and pricing models, we are focused on upgrading our customer information systems to manage this evolution," he said in an email.

"Unfortunately, as we move in this direction, the system and processes become less able to accommodate multiple water services in a cost-efficient way."

The city would be better off with a company that specializes in water billing service, he said. But "we are committed to working with the city to help ensure a smooth transition."

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