The city’s elected officials have approved a utility bill hike that will mean a 10.4 per cent rate increase for the average residential user.
A heap of discussion accompanied the utility bill hike decision, with Couns. Charlene Miller, Lee Atkinson and Tim Scharkowski voting against it during Monday’s city council meeting.
Miller opposed the motion because the average commercial user won’t pay the same percentage increase, at 4.66 per cent, as the average residential user.
“For that point and that point alone I will not support this budget,” she concluded.
During the previous week’s executive committee meeting, Miller drew attention to the fact that $600,000 within the utility budget is being transferred to the city’s general fund to pay for a percentage of various people’s wages.
This shift was justified at the time as being in keeping with a user-pay mentality, with the percentage transferred representing the portion of employees’ time spent on the utility. Although Miller shares this user-pay mentality, she didn’t feel this situation plays into it.
For Atkinson, the binder of paperwork about the utility budget provided to council a couple weeks before Monday’s decision left too many questions unanswered.
“I do not believe this is sustainable,” he said. “I do not believe the charts that I saw made any sense.
“We should get it right before we pass this thing, and I’m not willing to pass this because I don’t believe the numbers are accurate and show what they need to show.”
Scharkowski didn’t voice his opinion during Monday’s meeting and was not available for comment on Tuesday.
Although he ended up voting in favour of the utility bill hike, Coun. Don Cody did express a number of concerns.
His first big concern is that, every year, a number of capital projects budgeted for are not completed.
“The number of projects that are put forward here, I do believe that we have the ability to do these projects,” public works director Colin Innes responded, adding that he’s also of the belief that the capital projects budgeted for all have merit.
Last year’s weight restrictions and lane closures at the Diefenbaker bridge forced the city to postpone a number of projects, city manager Robert Cotterill said.
“I don’t want to have budgets that are referred year to year,” he added. “That’s a poor business practice, and we’re taxing for things that we shouldn’t be taxing for.”
“Have you people cut this to the bone?” Cody asked administration.
We should get it right before we pass this thing, and I’m not willing to pass this because I don’t believe the numbers are accurate and show what they need to show. - Coun. Lee Atkinson
In 2011, the city’s elected officials said no to a utility rate increase, so a number of capital projects in the utility budget were cancelled, Cotterill said.
The city could very well opt to do the same thing this year, he added -- it’s all up to council.
“The days of being able to just get by are done, and we’ve seen it – just go over to 14th Street,” Coun. Mark Tweidt countered later on in the meeting, citing a piece of aging infrastructure that’s caused the city a great deal of grief in recent weeks.
Judging from their final decision in favour of the new utility rate structure, the majority of council backed up this notion.
The rate hike council agreed to did not come lightly, Coun. Rick Orr said, citing a Jan. 16 daylong meeting of council with administration, during which time they went over a thick binder of information about city utility budget options.
“I want the public to know that we did do due diligence, that we talked about these things and we went through our binders ahead of time and we worked with the numbers,” he said.
Although the city’s elected officials agreed to a utility rate structure on Monday, they still have to pass a bylaw implementing it.
Even then, Dionne said that the city might find itself in a better financial situation later on in the year as a result of the tendering process.
On top of that, provincial and federal funding will be sought on a continual basis.
Ultimately, to some degree, local utility system users will determine how much they pay, Coun. Martin Ring said.
“I do understand that there is one taxpayer and taxes get paid, but this is based on water usage, and if people choose to use less water, they can pay less,” he said. “They can find ways to use less water.”
Utility rates by the numbers
In 2013, the average residential user with a quarterly consumption of 2,500 cubic feet will pay $240.72 per quarter, which is:
• $22.60 more than last year
• $2.78 per 100 cubic feet for water
• $2.80 per 100 cubic feet of water use for sewage
• A fixed water capital works rate of $50.76
• A fixed sewer capital works rate of $50.46
Council has tentatively approved additional utility bill hikes of 9.2 per cent, 8.9 per cent and 8.9 per cent between 2014 and 2016.