Comox council grappling with water costs ‘pickle’

As a start to budget discussions, Comox council set utility rates for garbage, sewer and flat water rates for the Town on Wednesday.

As a start to budget discussions, Comox council set utility rates for garbage, sewer and flat water rates for the Town on Wednesday, but decided to take more time before setting an overall metered rate for water use.

In his report to council, Don Jacquest, director of finance for the Town, noted the mass of garbage tipped at the landfill will gradually rise as the population grows.

He added he based the garbage budget for 2012-2016 on tipping 4,052 tonnes at the landfill, which will make the fees rise by $44,000. In future years, he expects the annual ongoing tipping fee increases of $10 per tonne until the regional district reaches a $120-per-tonne tipping fee.

Jacquest said this will likely mean annual increases of around $10 per household per year.

“I truly believe that’s a reflection of the system getting behind the times; it’s now time to catch up. I can assure you other facilities on the Island are well above us,” noted Coun. Patti Fletcher.

“Garbage is a very expensive business and we’re adding more and more regulations; we’re having landfills that are closed. To think that tipping fees aren’t going up — they have to go up and I think we have to play catchup to what’s going on around us,” she added.

For a single-family residence, garbage rates will increase to $147 a year in 2012.

As for sewer rates, it was agreed to forward the bylaw for first, second and third reading to council with no increase. Jacquest noted in his report the regional sewer treatment service has increased its tax requisition by $100,000 in 2012, but for this year, the impact on the budget is small enough that it can absorb it by reducing the reserve contributions instead of increasing the rates.

Sewer rates have remained the same for a single-family residence since 2009 at $273 per year.

Following a lengthy discussion, council forwarded a bylaw to increase the flat water rates by $12 per year, raising the cost in 2012 to $315 for a single family residence.

In his report, Jacquest recommended on average, commercial customers pay less per cubic metre (m3) — 78 cents/m3 — than do residential customers (average $1/m3). He suggested addressing the difference by raising the metered rate 10 cents/m3 (to 88 cents/m3).

“The challenge that council has here is … to consider setting the metered rate is that people would have the option to convert to,” explained Mayor Paul Ives. “That is the essence of the program.

“When we installed the meters, people have the option this year or next year to do it,” Ives added. “This is an attempt at this point to set a plan to go forward. We have to do this in a way that makes sense, both in the flat rate and in the metered rate.”

Currently, about 1,500 in the Town are equipped with water meters, and customers have the option to pay the flat rate, or to switch to a metered rate.

Coun. Tom Grant debated the fact that based on consumption and the potential increase, metered customers could end up paying more than those who pay the flat rate water fees.

“We can’t penalize those people who voluntarily got a water meter, because they didn’t ask for it, and now we’re in a pickle. Let’s stick with a flat rate to everybody,” he said.

“We know that there are significant regional infrastructure projects in the very near future and that they are going to be funded through water rate increases, so we have to make sure that we keep that in mind,” noted Ives, who added he supported a flat rate increase, and encouraged council to set a metered rate so that people can make their own decisions.

“I think we have to continue to take these steps forward,” noted Fletcher. “Why? Because the costs are going to increase rapidly over the next years. I think it would irresponsible if we didn’t start moving forward and not be ready for the future.”

Following more debate, Fletcher suggested a motion to have the metered rate referred back to staff to examine other formulas and to consider a leak adjustment clause. The motion was passed with Couns. Tom Grant and Ken Grant opposed.