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Water, sewer fees surging up in Courtenay

City of Courtenay staff will draft bylaws to increase water user fees by 10 per cent and sewer user fees by 20 per cent for 2013.

Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation Monday, which would see the annual water user fee for a single-family dwelling increase by $31 and the sewer user fee increase by $33, according to a staff report. The water frontage tax would also increase from $1.09 per taxable foot to $1.14 per taxable foot.

"This is tough to do to raise these user fees for both sewer and water but they're absolutely essential," said Coun. Jon Ambler, who is a Courtenay director on the Comox Valley Regional District Board. "There's a great gasp factor and, you know, it'll be in the newspapers, a 20-per-cent increase, you know, we can all clutch our chests, OK, that's $3 a month, is what that increase actually is, the actually money that it is, and yet there's nothing more important to the community."

According to Tillie Manthey, Courtenay director of financial services, six per cent of the water user fee increase stems from regional cost increases, while four per cent of the increase will fund the City's operations.

She also noted 15 per cent of the sewer user fee increase will help pay for infrastructure improvements at the regional level, while five per cent will go toward the City's operations.

According to Courtenay's proposed 2013 to 2017 financial plan for water and sewer, over $2.5 million will be spent on capital projects relating to water, and over $2.7 million will be spent on sewer projects. Funds come from user fees, as well as City reserves, government grants and development cost charges, among other sources.

The proposed financial plan also projects six-per-cent increases to the water user fees in 2014 and 2015, and a four-per-cent increase in 2016 followed by a three-per-cent increase in 2017. For a single-family dwelling that means a jump from $312 in 2012 to $413 in 2017.

Sewer user fees are projected to rise by 15 per cent each year from 2014 to 2016 with a further 12-per-cent increase in 2017. User fees for a single-family dwelling were $162 in 2012 and the increases would mean a jump to $332 by 2017.

Manthey noted CVRD staff will present a detailed plan of the capital works projects planned for the region at the Courtenay council meeting on Feb. 18, and there is information on the projects on the CVRD website at www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.

Coun. Manno Theos, who is also a director on the CVRD board, noted the user fee hikes may be hard for some people, but there is no way around them.

"Most of the people I speak to, every dollar counts, and I can completely assure you that the representatives to the regional district from this table were asking the hard questions, and saying is there any other way that we can move this down the road as in terms of the costs," he explained, adding they were told the work needs to happen now. "The costs would be so much greater to do this five, 10 years down the road."

Ambler added standards for water quality are rising and infrastructure will have to be added to improve the drinking water coming out of Comox Lake.

"We won't have any choice on that, and when that comes that will have to be paid for so it's incumbent on us to not fall behind," he added.

Coun. Starr Winchester, who also sits on the regional district board, summed up how she feels about the situation: "This is going to be a tough two or three years ahead of us, but we have to do it, and that's all there is to it."

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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