Commercial water rates remain a concern

Water and sewer rates for commercial clients in Burns Lake have been long-standing local issue.

Some Burns Lake Business owners are finding the recent rate hike to their utilities onerous

Water and sewer rates for commercial clients in Burns Lake have been long-standing local issue.

Aging infrastructure and the general feeling that pending capital costs are unavoidable regarding buried water and sewer lines, coupled with the inevitable need for upgrades to the existing water tower if the town is to expand, have meant increases to tax-payer rates, both commercial and residential over the last two municipal budget cycles.

Some local merchants have been questioning the fairness of commercial water rates in town since 2010.

As reported in the Lakes District News, Nov. 10, 2010, then Village of Burns Lake (VBL) Mayor Bernice Magee, referring to a letter from local merchants, called attention to the inequality that exists between large businesses employing many workers paying the same water usage rates as small businesses with, in some cases, only one employee.

By 2010, 30 businesses that had been identified as high volume users had been set up with water meters to allow the village measure water consumption and charge accordingly.

Since then, the village has required all new water connections at existing or new businesses be fit with water meters.

Metered businesses pay on a tiered system where the water rate increases as usage increases. According to Village of Burns Lake (VBL) Director of Public Works Rick Martin, this is done to encourage water conservation.

The implementation of the 22 per cent increase to water and sewer rates instituted during last year’s VBL budget deliberations as re-awakened the issue of water rate fairness with some business owners.

For metered businesses, this means an increase across all water-use volumes, while non-metered businesses have an increase to their flat rate.

A business will trigger a higher water use charge when it consumes more than 135 cubic meters in a month.

The 22 per cent increase to water utility rates applies to each tiered rate increase as consumption increases, so businesses with heavy water use will experience the 22 per cent hike on a rising scale.

Mulvaney’s Pub and Grill owner Reg Leith questions whether or not some businesses that use as much or more water than he does are exempt from a metered rate. His business is metered, he said.

Brenda Hiebert, owner of the Grapevine Pub and Bistro, has noticed that her utility bills sometimes reflect upwards of a tripling of previous invoices, once rate increases are applied to water, sewer and garbage costs.

Hiebert is unaware of changes in her consumption to account for large the large rate increases over the same period last year. She questions the fairness of a system that may see some commercial water users paying lower rates because they are not metered.

Exactly which businesses in town are metered is considered confidential by the village, and so a list is not immediately available.

Some large commercial properties in Burns Lake remain exempt from water metering.

The three buildings owned by Randy Hamp – the CIBC building, the Greyhound building, which also houses Purely H20 a water sales business, and Village Insurance – are not metered.

The village recently introduced a rate reduction for 22 of 86 local businesses which the village identified as low-volume water users based on three criteria: having five questions the fairness of a system that may see some commercial water users paying lower rates because they are not metered.

Exactly which businesses in town are metered is considered confidential by the village, and so a list is not immediately available.  Lakes District News welcomes any information from utility rate payers in town.

Some large commercial properties in Burns Lake remain exempt from water metering.

The three buildings owned by Randy Hamp – the CIBC building, the Greyhound building, which also houses Purely H20 a water sales business, and Village Insurance – are not metered.

The village recently introduced a rate reduction for 22 of 86 local businesses which the village identified as low-volume water users based on three criteria: having five or fewer employees; a bathroom and/or shower primarily for employee use only; and business water usage not tied to any services (as in a car wash or laundromat).

While the rate reduction would be a relief to some, it also arrived at the same time as some property owners in town received multiple utility bills in place of former single bills for premises with multiple businesses present.

Local business owner Kelly Holliday went on the record during the July 16, 2013 regular VBL council meeting to raise the question of fairness in that regard. Her business is in a building that used to share utilities with two other businesses. The property owner was assigned utilities bills for each business individually when the owner used to receive only one individual bill for the property.

The unexpected cost is an additional burden to business owners, as property owners will most likely pass the costs directly on to the business owner.

The reduction to some commercial rates also meant a small increase to residential rates across the board.

During 2013 council budget deliberations, VBL Chief Administrative Officer Sheryl Worthing commented in a report that, “Local governments have a duty to ensure that users are treated fairly and equitably based on usage.”

While the village strives to fulfil this mandate, Worthing acknowledged that water usage is not necessarily straight-forward and may be influenced by other issues.

Regarding what appear to be irregular bills, Worthing said, “There are different factors that could cause this.  The business may have consumed over the minimum amount of water for the first time, triggering a different rate for a different tier. There could be a problem/error on [the] utility bill.  There could be a leak in the line causing a different rate for a different tier because of excess water usage.”

Worthing recommends that any concerned business owner should contact the village to discuss their concerns or for a review of their utility bill.

Business owners are invited to contact the Lakes District News  to let us know if they are water metered or not.

 

 

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