After going for decades without having to pay for sewer and water service, churches in Fort Frances will have start doing so starting Sept. 1.
Town council approved a report from Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown here Monday evening, stating that churches will be billed as “residential customers,” with rates to go into effect Sept. 1, 2010.
In an interview yesterday, Brown said it recently came to the attention of administration that nearly all of the 14 churches and places of worship in town have not been charged sewer and water rates for at least 30 years.
Only the ones that are considered “manses” (i.e., churches with a living arrangement), such as the Salvation Army Citadel, which has been charged as a residential customer.
The issue came to light when the town was working with the Church of the Holy Spirit, which occupies the former Clendenning’s building at 824 Victoria Ave., and learned they, and other churches, don’t pay for sewer and water.
Brown noted utility clerk Patti Roy, who’s been working for the town since 1979, indicated that during her time, churches haven’t been charged for the service.
He added Roy didn’t know how long the practice had gone on before that, and no one can seem to find any written documentation as to why the town has done this all these years.
Since not charging the churches runs contradictory to Bylaw 16/06 (Management of the Water System), and under that same bylaw, administration does not have the authority to waive sewer and water fees to church properties, Brown said something had to be done—reasoning that if the town can’t follow its own bylaw, how can it expect to enforce it.
A study of neighbouring communities indicated they charged churches for sewer and water services.
Dryden and Atikokan charged churches using a flat rate billing system while International Falls, Kenora, and Thunder Bay use a metered billing system.
Brown noted the “guiding principle” is that any building within the town limits of Fort Frances utilizing sewer and water services have to pay for these services.
Sewer and water services are considered standalone utilities and are not subsidized by taxation, and it is not fair to other customers to subsidize church buildings.
“Churches don’t get a deal on hydro. None of our neighbours are doing it,” noted Brown.
“Let’s treat everyone equally—if you’ve sewer and water, you should be paying for it.”
Under the town’s water management bylaw, a church building here normally would be designated as an “institutional” water customer, and require a water meter—and possibly a backflow prevention device—to be installed at the expense of the property owner ($1,000-1,500).
After extensive discussion between administration and the Operations and Facilities executive committee, the latter recommended the following:
•the town’s water system management bylaw will be revised to designate churches as a “residential” customer, with fees/rates to go into effect on Sept. 1, 2010 (there will be no back charges for fees in 2010 and any previous years—just moving forward);
•As of Sept. 1, 2010, churches will be charged a flat rate fee of $785.40 a year (this is 29.3 percent lower than the comparable rate they would be charged if they were classified as “institutional” and had to pay the flat Industrial Commercial Institutional (ICI) customer rate);
•there will be no requirement to install a water meter with a backflow prevention device (however, once the new council has been elected this fall, one of its first major decisions will be whether or not to implement a fully-metered system, where all residential buildings will require a water meter, including church buildings); and
•administration will send a letter to all church organizations indicating the implementation of these sewer and water changes.
Brown said by using a staged approach, council defers the cost of water meter installation for the church organizations this year—and provides a window for them to address how to pay for the ongoing utility fees for sewer and water services going forward.
Meanwhile, Brown estimated water meters for everyone may be in the cards in the next year.
The town had been waiting for the Fort Frances Power Corp.’s “smart meter” communication system to be up and running so the town could “piggyback” on the system and be able to get water meter data electronically via wireless technology.
The FFPC’s communication system should be ready by the end of June.
With that piece of the puzzle in place, it will be up to the incoming council to decide where or not it wants to go ahead with the water meters.
“The town has enough reserves to finance residential water meters right now,” noted Brown, adding administration has been in favour of getting water meters for some time and “it’s just a fairer way of doing business.”
Brown also pointed out the Minister of Environment recommends water meters as a means to detect losses in the system.
“If you’ve got a leaky watermain, and it’s leaking into the sanitary sewer and you’re treating that at the sewage treatment plant, you’re just wasting money,” he remarked.
“We’ve got 69 km of pipe,” he stressed. “We don’t know where every leak is.
“We don’t do any detection, but this is one way of doing it,” Brown added.
As well, it addresses a common public complaint as to how some residents can waste water while others conserve and yet they end up paying the same at the end of the day.
“I get people complaining about other residential properties watering their grass all of the time, filling their pool, and there’s no different rate,” said Brown.
“A flat rate system, we don’t have any control. That means a person in a residential property can use as much water as they want, and we couldn’t really do anything about it.
“If we went to a metered system, you pay for what you use.”
Studies have shown that switching to a metered system results in an average 30 percent drop in the amount of water people use, added Brown.
He stressed that water meters, like smart meters, fit into the province’s conservation strategy—and are the way of the future.
“We know that a lot of our grants in the future are going to be linked to water,” Brown noted. “We’re moving in that direction.”