Utility bills silently increased by 9.2 per cent

Tyler Clarke
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Utility bills silently went up by 9.2 per cent for the average residential user on Jan. 1, and city council decided on Monday what to do with the $14.38 million fund.

Coun. Lee Atkinson joined Coun. Charlene Miller in voting against the 2014 water utility operating and capital budgets at Monday’s city council meeting. 

The city’s elected officials passed a multi-year utility bill increase in January, 2013, that will bring the city through to 2016.

Finance director Joe Day noted this week that the increase automatically goes into effect at the beginning of each year.

Last year’s increase was 10.4 per cent and this year’s was 9.2 per cent. In both 2015 and 2016 the increases will be 8.9 per cent.

“That doesn’t preclude (council) from revisiting those rates or (related) bylaws in any particular year,” Day clarified.

This year’s 9.2 per cent increase was not revisited by council, aside from a single question posed at the Dec. 9 city council meeting, during which Coun. Charlene Miller asked Mayor Greg Dionne whether he was interested in re-thinking the increase.

Dionne replied that he's open to looking at anything, "as long as it's fair and equal to the majority of our population."

During Monday’s city council meeting, the city’s elected officials approved the 2014 water utility operating and capital budget.

Considering an extensive document that includes operating revenues of $14.38 million and a capital expenditure of $3.15 million, debate at Monday’s city council meeting was limited to a single long-standing criticism of Coun. Lee Atkinson’s.

That doesn’t preclude (council) from revisiting those rates or (related) bylaws in any particular year. Joe Day

Every year, a portion of the utility budget is transferred to the city’s general fund.

Last year’s transfer was about $600,000, Atkinson clarified, noting that his lack of support of the transfer is “a matter of philosophy.”

“Instead of taking money out of the utility, maybe it should be left in the utility,” he suggested, noting that there are plenty of things within the utility that require funding. “We seem to rob the utility to balance the general fund.”

Within this year’s general fund budget, city administration included an uncommitted provision of about $609,220, Atkinson noted.

Since this uncommitted fund is the same approximate sum as the annual transfer, Atkinson suggested that going without the transfer could be done without taxpayer impact.

Coun. Don Cody countered by saying that the transfer has been a long-standing practice of the city and provides a slight break on property taxation, which he is in support of.

Couns. Atkinson and Miller were the only members of council to vote against the 2014 water utility operating and capital budgets.

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