Water and sewer rate increases discussed

Village of Burns Lake budget deliberations continued last week.

John Illes

Village of Burns Lake budget deliberations continued last week, with new councillors Susan Schienbein and Frank Varga given an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed increases to the water and sewer budgets.

As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Dec. 7, 2011, Coun. John Illes had previously proposed an increase to residential water and sewer rates and a decrease for all non metered commercial business water and sewer rates.

Councillor Illes suggested that the commercial rate be brought down to the current annual residential rate of $164.76 for water and $158 for sewer. This would then require an increase in residential rates to cover the resulting budget deficit.

According to Carla Fox, village deputy director of financial services, Coun. Illes’ suggestion would result in a 20 per cent increase in water and a 22 per cent increase in sewer to residential rates.

The proposed increase would see the annual water rates for a single family residence jump from $164.76 to $228.51, an increase of $63.75. The annual sewer rates would increase from $157.98 to $215 annually an increase of $56.64 cents for a single family residence.

Fox said the commercial rate reduction would see local unmetered businesses water rates drop from an annual $464.25 to $164.76 and sewer rates drop from $423.58 to $158.00.

According to Fox, the proposed commercial rate decrease left a $28,000 hole in the budget, which increases in the residential rates had to fill.

“Under this scenario, the commercial rate goes down and the residential rate goes up,” said Fox.

Councillor Illes said, “Other municipalities offer small businesses the same rate for commercial and residential, but we are taxing small non metered businesses.”

Councillor Varga asked how many local businesses are metered.

“There are 32 commercial businesses that are metered in Burns Lake,” said Sheryl Worthing, village chief administrative officer.

“How is that decided ….. how do you choose the businesses that will be metered and non metered?” Coun. Varga asked.

Rick Martin village director of public works said he did not know how it was originally decided which businesses would be metered and which ones wouldn’t.

“It is our hope that those businesses that are metered are the larger users of water,” Coun. Illes said.

Mayor Luke Strimbold said that village staff are currently looking into water meters [for all businesses and residences]. “We are looking at how we can enforce them and what the cost to the village is,” he said.

Worthing said the village is conducting a trial of residential meters in four homes in Burns Lake. “We are monitoring these meters and then we will have a good idea of what residential meters are going to look like,” she said adding that the trial will be for a one year period.

Councillor Illes said he would still like to see an increase in residential water and sewer rates, while reducing commercial non metered rates. “It will give small business people an indication that we are listening to them,” he said, adding that the 20 and 22 per cent increases to residential water and sewer will more than cover the deficit left by a commercial non metered rate reduction.

“I also think we should move the purchase of the generator for the deep well system up by one year from 2014 to 2013. It’s important that our toilets flush and when we turn on the tap we have water. As a council, if we fail to provide that, then we have completely failed.”

As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Dec. 7, 2011, $130,000 has been budgeted for a back up generator for the village’s high lift water station during 2012.

He said that during a power outage and without a back up generator available for the high lift water station, the village will completely lose its water supply. Martin has also budgeted $40,000 for a back up generator for the deep well system to be purchased in 2014.

Councillor Varga asked if it was a necessity to move the purchase of the deep well back up generator up one year.

Martin said, “I have other capital projects scheduled for 2012. I do have the facilities to start a generator [for the deep well system]. It would take hours, but it could be done within a day.”

Councillor Susan Schienbein asked if there had been a delegation of business owners come to a council meeting complaining about the water and sewer rates.

Councillor Illes responded that there had been one business owner who had come to council.

“Other than that one person, there has been no others?” Coun. Schienbein asked.

“I went and talked to them,” Coun. Illes said.

Councillor Schienbein responded, “I am not suggesting that we don’t raise the rates, but I personally would like to see a coalition of local business owners or the chamber come to council with concerns. It is great for us to have this discussion but I need to hear them first come to the table to hear they have a valid concern. I think that by going out and asking them we may be eliciting some concerns where there isn’t any.  I am also concerned about comparing Burns Lake with other communities as we already rely so heavily on residential taxation and we need to be careful.”

Councillor Illes said, “We need to attract small businesses. We need the dollars to get a generator to protect our infrastructure. If anything happens, it will cost more than the $20,000 we have in reserve funding.”

Worthing said, “We are actually not charging enough to cover the cost of water and sewer. We have been getting better and we have had some increases in rates, but if we are going to do this correctly the rates really need to be increased,” she said.

Fox added, “We are trying to be proactive in setting aside reserve funding. At this point we don’t know what we need so we are setting aside a modest amount. Starting 2013 we will be putting in more dollars and building up the reserves.”

“The newspaper has a hey day when you just mention a seven per cent increase so when you say a 20 per cent increase this sounds bad. The percentage is actually higher than the dollar amount.  I think it is a good idea to compare us with other municipalities,” Coun. Beach said.

Councillor Illes said that in light of not having the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce come to council and represent any local business concerns over water and sewer rates, he would like to make an amended motion that residential water and sewer rates be increased to a flat $200 each and non metered commercial rates stay the same, without a decrease.

The motion was defeated as Coun. Schienbein, Varga and Beach did not support the motion. Beach said he wanted to see an increase in residential rates, but still supported a decrease to commercial rates.

“I think we need to review the metering comparisons before any raises. Otherwise we could be raising the rates now and have then another raise when the meters come in,” Coun. Varga said.

“The rates are too low. They are so low it’s ridiculous and it is up to us to do something about it. It is an uncomfortable position to be in,” Coun Beach said.

“We are currently undertaking a number of ambitious projects and people are looking at more tax dollars for the arena referendum in February 2012. Increasing the water and sewer …. I just think we have to be mindful and I would have to hear [complaints] it from more than one or two businesses,” Coun. Schienbein added.

A motion was then made by Coun. Illes for village staff to bring back several scenarios for water and sewer rate increases, including comparisons with other communities.

The motion was supported by all councillors.