Council eyeing water rate hike

Duane Hicks

While no decisions have been made yet, town council has broached the topic of water rates in its 2011 budget discussions is considering an increase.
At a budget meeting Tuesday afternoon, council directed Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown to come up with rate scenarios, with the aim of raising revenues by 3.7 percent, generating an extra $153,895.
This tentatively means an increase of one percent for residential customers and 3.7 percent for hydrants/sprinklers.
There would be no change to the flat rate for industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) customers but an increase to the volumetric ICI rates not to exceed eight percent.
Any revenue generated by the increase would not be used to pay for water and sewer operating costs, which actually are lower than they were last year, but instead used to help replenish town reserves for future capital projects.
This year, the town is expected to spend $1.5 million out of its $5 million sewer and water reserves.
Coun. Paul Ryan said the town has to start socking away money now to pay for future infrastructure repairs.
“We’ve got collapsing pipes all over the place. We had another watermain break today [Tuesday] on First Street [East],” he noted.
“We have to start collecting something and putting it away to repair these pipes and our roads,” he stressed. “I think it has to be done now.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that doesn’t agree with me,” Coun. Ryan added. “For the last, 50, 60, maybe 100 years, they’ve neglected those pipes and we’ve hit the wall.
“I think it’s our prudent duty to start doing something about it,” he remarked. “I think we’re all done building buildings, stuff you can see.
“We have to start looking at stuff you can’t see. It’s more important.
“The day we can’t supply water and sewer to a house in this town is the day the fur is going to fly,” Coun. Ryan warned.
“I could put it more in the vernacular if you’d like.”
Brown and several members of council said Tuesday there continues to be an inequity in the rates for the ICI sector, where flat-rate small users are subsidizing the large users who are paying the volumetric rate, and this must be looked at.
As well, several councillors noted water meters likely will be mandated by the province in the near future. As such, the gap between residential and ICI rates has to be narrowed prior to then so that when a fully-metered system is imposed, all customers will be charged the same volumetric rate for water.
Right now, residents pay $3.52 per cubic metre, ICI pays $2, and non-residents pay $4.40.
On average, a cubic metre of water costs just over $3 to treat.
Rate scenarios will be looked at by the Operations and Facilities executive committee when it meets Feb. 9, and come back to council the week after.
Council is expected to set the rates prior to March 1 so the first sewer and water bills of 2011 can be sent out.
Sidewalk removal
In related news, council has yet to scratch the surface of the 2011 capital budget, which sits at $8.6 million.
One project, however, that likely will go ahead this year is the replacement of aged sanitary sewer line and water line on Third Street East, from Portage Avenue to Mowat Avenue.
But part of this project might include the removal of the sidewalk on the north side of the street.
Brown said the town has laid out in its official plan that it wants to gradually eliminate sidewalks on certain streets in the future, using the cost savings to put in new sidewalks where there currently are none, like along Keating Avenue by J.W. Walker School.
“This is a low-volume road where you should be able to eliminate the north sidewalk,” said Brown, adding the south sidewalk will remain because it is newer.
If the sidewalk on the north side of that portion of Third Street is removed during the work, the property would be landscaped when the work was completed.
But Coun. Sharon Tibbs said the town should look into the sidewalk issue further before making any decisions, as she recalled that particular sidewalk being redone in the past 20 years and therefore not as old as some may think.
As well, she felt the sidewalk is well-used, especially in the summer, and that if the town gets rid of it, pedestrian traffic simply will tread a path on the newly-landscaped north side of the street rather than cross over to use the south side.
Mayor Roy Avis said whatever is done, the town should try to have continuity with any sidewalks it may remove in future (i.e., they should try to remove sidewalks on the same side of the street).