Utilities Kingston’s unique business model leads to better and more cost- effective water, wastewater, gas, electricity, and fibre- optic services for industrial, commercial and residential customers.
Its shared services delivery model in one company under the leadership of a single CEO is one-of-a-kind in Ontario. In fact, president and CEO Jim Keech does not know of another such utility structure in North America.
Utilities Kingston provides drinking water to 38,000 customers, wastewater services to nearly 37,000 homes and businesses, and safe and reliable gas services to nearly 15,000 customers. As well, it provides asset management, billing, and operational services to Kingston Hydro, which in turn provides electricity services to 28,000 customers in central Kingston. The utility company also maintains more than 10,000 street lights and traffic signals at 200 intersections, provides fibre optic broadband networking services, and manages an appliance rental business that includes water heaters.
The diversified model allows for economies of scope, says Keech, that has fended off the need to reduce costs through mergers.
“We benefit from a shared services model for activities, equipment, and systems in terms of customer care, billing, accounting, fleet and some operational functions. That lowers costs and improves customer service.”
Customers need only make one call to arrange a move or locate underground pipes or cables for instance.
“In some communities, that requires three phone calls,” said Keech. “We send one worker who does all the locates. We have just one billing department and one meter reading team. We’ve been able to show significant dollars in savings to the City of Kingston, and other stakeholders.“
Construction projects, joint with the City of Kingston, combine road works with water, sewer, gas, and electricity upgrades. They are efficiently coordinated, reducing disruption to residents and businesses. These efficiencies help enable and support economic development investment.
Utilities Kingston does extensive long-range business and capital planning, to meet the City’s growth projections for industrial, commercial and residential sectors.
“We work closely with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation and the City so that we are ready when growth opportunities arise.” In 1998 there was a municipal restructuring in Kingston, which brought multiple utility services under one department. After provincial deregulation of the electricity sector in 2000, many municipalities sold off their electric utilities. The City of Kingston recognized the community benefits of maintaining the multi-utility structure that had recently been formed. The solution was to set up a municipal structure that allowed Utilities Kingston, as an incorporated business, to manage, maintain and operate multiple utilities. It is now a City-owned utility company, managed by an independent board.
“That was definitely the right decision for Kingston.”