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Dramatic increases possible for Courtenay sewer and water rates

Courtenay residents will likely see significant hikes in their sewer and water user rates in the coming years.
Council passed a motion Monday to instruct City staff to draft a bylaw allowing for a two-per-cent increase in water and sewer user rates for 2012.
However, according to the proposed 2012 to 2016 five-year financial plan, both user rates are expected to rise substantially over the next five years — with sewer rates rising "dramatically," according to Tillie Manthey, City director of financial services.
According to the financial plan, sewer user rates are expected to rise by 15 per cent in 2013, followed by a 20-per-cent hike in 2014, and another 20-per-cent rise in 2015.
While Manthey said these numbers are estimates and the rate hikes could end up lower, she pointed out that the Comox Valley Regional District is working on a 10-year plan to upgrade its sewer system and the City's expected contribution is a leading factor in the need for "dramatic" user fee hikes.
"We will be looking to council to increase those (user) rates dramatically over the next five years. To put that in perspective, our current sewer user rate is $159 per year and essentially, if the regional requisition increases by the amounts proposed, we would look at that rate doubling in the next five years."
According to the financial plan, the Courtenay contribution to CVRD upgrades to sewer operations was $2,172,326 in 2011. It's expected to jump to $3.92 million in 2016, with increments along the way.
While Manthey noted some of these costs are due to new developments, she said much of the proposed work is related to end-of-life issues.
"The regional sewer system was built primarily, I would say, 30 or 40 years ago, and so a lot of those assets, while having been maintained, are reaching end-of-life," explained Manthey.
As for water user rates, the overall proposed rate increase is two per cent, but the staff report suggests continuing with the shift in the water rate structure, which generally increases flat rate user rates and decreases metered water user rates.
According to the report, council approved a five-year phased plan to reduce metered rates and increase non-metered rates in December 2010.
Manthey said this plan was designed to make things more fair for metered customers.
"We move towards generally reducing the rates for metered customers who are proportionally paying too much and increasing the rates to non-metered customers," said Manthey.
For example, according to the financial plan, non-metered residential rates would increase by four per cent this year under the rate shift plan, while multifamily metered rates would decrease by 2.36 per cent.
Overall, water user rates are expected to increase, which is partly due to expected hikes in the cost of water the City buys from the CVRD.
According to the plan, the City paid $2,753,385 for water in 2011. That amount is expected to jump to $3.344 million by 2016.
To keep up with the expected water cost increases to the City, the plan projects user rate increases of four per cent in 2013, five per cent in 2014, seven per cent in 2015 and six per cent in 2016.
Coun. Jon Ambler, who is a Courtenay representative on the CVRD board, pointed out that while water and sewer services are expensive, they are necessary.
"Sewer and water are the fundamental services the City provides," he said. "The urge to push this (expense) off to the right and all that is a bad practice because things don't get better — they get worse.
"This is part of living in the First World and we have to pay for our wonderful safe infrastructure and there's no getting around it."
Meanwhile, Manthey noted the commercial toilet rebate program was popular last year, and has been included in the proposed financial plan again this year. She pointed out that the CVRD offers a similar program but only on a residential basis.
While $40,000 for the program is proposed in 2012, the same amount was budgeted in 2011 but only $13,693 was actually spent.
A capital project of note proposed for sometime in 2013 is a changeover of the Sandwick Waterworks District to bring that area into the City's water system. Mission Hill area business owner Garf Baxandall came before council in December on behalf of a number of area businesses to explain the water and sewer problems they face and ask for action.
The proposed plan also includes a $50,000 provision for a City-wide water study, and $90,000 for a City-wide sewer study, both to start in 2012. Kevin Lagan, City director of operational services, noted things have changed in Courtenay due to development, and it's time to look forward again to avoid problems in the future.
Manthey expected the proposed five-year financial plan to be posted on the City's website for public viewing by March 27. The public is invited to provide input on the plan.
writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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