Mayor, council split over new sewer, water rates

Town council passed a motion Monday night for a 10 percent increase for sewer and water rates to both commercial and residential classes, opting to wait to implement a 10-year fee schedule outlined by consultant Gary Scandlan of CN Watson & Associates at a public meeting here June 16.
But Mayor Dan Onichuk feels the 10 percent fee hike wasn’t enough.
He also said the town should be “proactive” and not wait to implement its long-term plan when it knows new water regulations (Bill 175) are coming down the pipe in the next 18 months.
“I have to speak against this. We’ve already identified the process to move forward,” the mayor said Monday night, referring to the 10-year fee schedule recommended by Scandlan.
Mayor Onichuk also stressed council still must address the inequality between residential and commercial rates, as well as the fact residents are subsidizing the commercial sector.
Not following the proposed long-term plan does nothing to this end, he argued.
“I think a 10 percent increase across the board is further widening the gap between the residential and commercial,” said Mayor Onichuk.
He added the commercial sector has complained that, under the plan revealed at the June 16 meeting, the commercial sector would see a 188 percent increase in its sewer and water rates over the next 10 years.
But the mayor stressed implementing that plan now would mean that customers at least would see that increase spread over that time period.
Waiting to get on track with the plan could mean customers will have to face an enormous increase all at once, he warned.
By the end of the evening, however, council voted in favour of the 10 percent increase by a vote of 6-1, with only Mayor Onichuk saying “nay.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig had put the recommendation for the 10 percent increase for both residential and commercial customers forward Monday night, noting the town wasn’t quite ready to implement a 10-year fee schedule.
But at the same time, the rates had to be raised at least somewhat this year.
He added if the town would have increased the sewer and water rates back in January, it would have been an 19 percent increase across the board to meet the expenses for 2005.
But to mitigate the impact of that, McCaig recommended council consider a 10 percent increase across the board, retroactive to July 1, 2005, with another $316,670.54 coming out of town reserves to cover what the rate hike will not.
McCaig noted this year’s increase did not mean the town was abandoning the long-term plan to build up reserves and pay for the “lifecycle” costing of the town’s sewer and water infrastructure.
Rather, it just means council and management will have more time to fine-tune the fee schedule and consider recommendations, such as those made at a special committee of the whole meeting last Tuesday (July 5).
Among those included making the flat rate for residential sewer and water the minimum charge for commercial, as well as eliminating “volume-driven” administrative charges in favour of set fees.
McCaig also said another consideration is the town may have to get new software to handle all the recommended changes to the sewer and water billing.
Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Gary Rogozinski, who was at Monday night’s meeting, said he felt the 10 percent rate hike was better than what had been proposed at the June 16 meeting with Scandlan—a 23 percent increase for water and 18 percent for sewer.
“I think it’s a positive step they’ve proposed,” Rogozinski said yesterday, adding the town should wait until Bill 175 was finalized and put into effect before instituting a multi-year fee schedule that would see the commercial sector paying large rate increases.
Rogozinski stressed the Chamber is more than willing to sit down with the town and provide input as it considers what to include in its long-term plan.