Council split on sewer, water installs

Duane Hicks

The town is looking to change the way sewer and water installations are invoiced to customers.
The majority of council voted down a recommendation from the Operations and Facilities executive committee to remain status quo at Monday night’s council meeting, meaning the issue will go back to that committee for further review.
The town currently bills customers based on the actual cost of the work done.
“When someone comes to us and they need sewer and water, whether it is for a new build or reconstruction or whatever the case may be, there’s an application form they fill out,” Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob explained.
“Once they fill out that application form, we do a cost estimate because we are expecting that customer to put a deposit down on the work, a percentage of the cost,” he noted.
The town then puts together a cost estimate based on the depth of the watermain, where the property is located, what kind of road surface is there, and if there is a sidewalk, among other factors.
The cost estimate will be “all-in,” including time and materials for the installation and full road reconstruction.
“We bill on the time and materials plus 10 percent,” said Rob, noting the equipment and labour rates are set out in the town’s user fee bylaw.
The customer then gets the estimate and if they go ahead with the job, pay a deposit.
If the instillation ends up costing more than the estimate, sometimes the town absorbs the extra cost and sometimes the property owner does–it depends on the circumstances, said Rob.
But some members of council rather would see a flat fee.
This would make a difference for some customers. For example, while the sewer main nearly always is situated in the centre of the road, watermains typically run along the north side of the street.
With the current system of costing, that means it’s slightly less expensive if you’re building on the north side of the street because south-side properties will require slightly more road excavation to get to the main than north-side ones.
With a flat fee, the cost would be same whether a property is on the north or south side of the street.
“Everybody would pay the same,” said Coun. Ken Perry, who felt strongly that the current system should change.
“You wouldn’t be disadvantaging certain properties or sides of the road for development,” he added.
Alternately, if the town decides to go with a system that still includes estimates, Coun. Perry said customers should be entitled to go and get more than one estimate and take the lowest bid–giving them an option to go with a contractor and not always the town to do the work.
“We’re paying a premium to get something done that we’re forced to pay,” he argued. “I can’t go to the private guy because that’s not allowed and I have to pay whatever the town decides I am going to pay.
“It’s at the whim the town and it shouldn’t be that way,” Coun. Perry stressed. “The contractor should also have a chance at getting that work.”
Coun. June Caul, meanwhile, reasoned that if there’s a flat rate, the town is going to have to absorb “a heck of a pile of money” at certain times.
“And who ends up having to shoulder the money that the town put forward for the flat rate? The rest of us do. The taxpayers do,” she noted.
“And I don’t think that’s right.”
Coun. Wendy Brunetta said she can see a positive side to having a flat rate–especially for developers who might be estimating how much they want to charge for a lot they’re planning to develop.
“But on the other hand, I also don’t think we should be subsidizing this in terms of going in the hole,” she added.
“We want to make sure our costs are covered.”
Mayor Roy Avis said he feels a new system could be worked out “for everybody’s benefit.”