Sewer, water rates to jump Meters likely to be part of future

Due to changes in provincial legislation in the wake of the E. coli tragedy in Walkerton five years ago, significant upgrades to the town’s sewer and water system must be done over the next decade.
And consultant Gary Scandlan of CN Watson & Associates Ltd. revealed during a public meeting here Thursday night a 10-year plan for the town to build up funds to pay the $13.4-million bill for these projects—a plan which could see residents facing annual hikes to their sewer and water bills until 2014.
The first of these hikes—to be voted on by town council at its next meeting June 27 and, if passed, come into effect July 1—will see the residential water rate jump from $28.92/month to $30.37 and the sewer rate go from $25.52/month to $25.54.
The flat commercial water rate will go from $38.12 to $49.17 per month while the flat commercial sewer rate will increase from $33.64 to $41.36.
The metered commercial rate for water will go up from $0.69/cubic metre to $0.89 while the metered rate for sewer will change from $0.61/cubic metre to $0.75.
This will be followed by a second increase in January, 2006, where water and sewer rates for residents will rise to $30.74 and $25.60, respectively, while flat commercial rates will increase to $60.77 and $49.08, respectively.
Metered commercial water and sewer rates will increase to $1.10/cubic metre and $0.89/cubic metre, respectively.
Council only is looking at adopting the rates for 2005 and 2006 at this time. But if it chooses to follow the 10-year fee schedule as it stands, ratepayers will see an overall increase of 67 percent for both sewer and water rates over the next decade.
This would result in the combined lifecycle reserves for sewer and water projects increasing each year—from $235,000 in 2006 to $2.1 million per year by 2014.
Scandlan stressed the 67 percent increase is lower than the average (80-90 percent) being implemented by other Ontario municipalities also upgrading their sewer and water systems.
Some even have had to hike fees by 300 percent.
“The worst thing we can do is nothing,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said of the rate hikes, adding that acting now is all part of a long-term plan for sustainability.
He stressed that by gradually increasing the rates, and thus the town’s sewer and water reserves, the current council and administration is preventing a potential situation whereby a future council could be faced with an infrastructure crisis and forced to double ratepayers’ monthly bills without warning.
Scandlan was hired by the town back in February to examine how two new provincial laws—Bill 175 (Sustainable Water and Sewage System Act) and Bill 195 (Safe Water Drinking Act)—would impact rates here.
He explained that while Bill 195, which was passed in 2002, deals with new standards for water treatment, distribution and testing, and stronger enforcement and compliance of provisions, Bill 175 has had a more direct impact on how Ontario municipalities, including Fort Frances, have to approach sustaining their sewer and water systems.
Essentially, municipalities submit two reports for provincial approval: one detailing the state of its sewer and water infrastructure, and how much it costs to provide services while maintaining that infrastructure.
The second details a full cost recovery plan, whereby the town must identify how it intends to pay for the full cost of providing those services, including budgeting for the full life-cycle of sewer and water piping and other related infrastructure.
This means all residents across Ontario will have to pay to ensure that when a component of the sewer or water system in their respective municipality needs to be replaced, the municipality already has the money set aside to do so.
In order to prepare these reports for the town, Scandlan conducted a study where he had to:
•identify all current and future water and wastewater system capital needs;
•identify cost recovery options for capital;
•estimate future operating costs over the next 10 years; and
•recommend new rates to recover the cost of the water and wastewater systems.
As a result of that study, Scandlan not only recommended council consider the above changes to sewer and water rates, but:
•consider stop charging a separate water rate for private sprinklers;
•equalizing commercial rates with residential ones over the next five years; and
•for metered accounts, consider a minimum monthly charge of $10 each for sewer and water services (this is to ensure even seasonal businesses/residents who aren’t in Fort Frances for months at a time consistently contribute to the system).
< *c>Water meters
Ten citizens attended Thursday night’s public meeting, and the topic that came up most during the question-and-answer period was water meters.
Several said they’d like to see water meters implemented as soon as possible, not only for the sake of fairness (currently, a single person that uses less water than a family of four pays the same flat rate), but conservation (which not only means less water used, but less water that has to be treated by the town and thus a cost-savings).
Mayor Onichuk, who answered questions along with Scandlan, Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown, and CAO Mark McCaig, said meters will be looked at in the near future, agreeing it is a fair system that encourages conservation.
But Brown noted the town first must use revenues to build up reserves, address current problems with the sewer and water system, “and come to a point where everyone has good quality water” before switching to water meters for all residents.
“It’s all or nothing with meters,” said Mayor Onichuk, adding the town can’t allow some residents to have them while others don’t.
But the mayor also said once the town does start to phase in meters, multi-residential buildings likely will be the first to get them.
He noted it would cost about $275 to buy and install a meter, adding part of the rationale behind the rate increases is to build reserves to pay for the meters as opposed to sticking ratepayers with a bill for $275 out of the blue.
McCaig noted public input would be taken into consideration during any future discussions of sewer and water rates and water meters.