Prince Albert residents are bracing themselves for a large utility rate increase alongside most other cities in Saskatchewan.
“At the end of the day, we’re all struggling with the same thing -- a lack of infrastructure money,” Mayor Greg Dionne said.
Although Prince Albert’s 2013 utility rate is positioned near the middle of the spectrum of Saskatchewan cities, Dionne said that other cities’ rates was not part of the budgetary discussion at council chambers.
“In the past, we used to set it to make people happy, but this time (it’s) a needs budget,” he said.
“Everyone’s aware that we’ve been putting off infrastructure … to the point it’s almost at a crisis point in our city where we’ve got lines collapsing and big failures, and we can’t allow that.”
Prince Albert’s average residential user will see a utility bill increase of 10.4 per cent this year, with subsequent years seeing increases of 9.2 per cent and 8.9 per cent.
The City of Lloydminster is also looking at a multi-year utility rate increase, with the average residential user seeing an increase of 14 per cent this year, with the next two years seeing additional increases of 10 per cent.
“We have an excess of $300-million in capital requirements within our water utility, so we need to start generating funds to tackle those,” Lloydminster public works director Kirk Morrison explained.
Third party consultants hired by the city determined this $300 million figure, incorporating all facets of the city’s aging infrastructure, he said.
“There are definitely fiscal challenges trying to keep up with some of those aging infrastructure on the waterlines, the sewer lines, the roadway networks,” he added. “Municipalities have very few ways of generating revenue, and it really comes down to taxes, water rates and user fees.”
Depending less on fixed rates than Prince Albert’s utility rates, Lloydminster residents pay rates more reflective of water use, with this year’s budget eliminating a flat fee as a means of promoting water conservation, a City of Lloydminster report reads.
“Some customers, their water bill will actually decrease – so, the lower-end customers, who are typically fixed incoming senior customers who aren’t using a lot of water, their rates will actually go down,” Morrison said.
The average residential user will pay a fixed rate of $14.50 in Lloydminster this year. Although Prince Albert’s fixed rate is set at $33.74 in 2013, Prince Albert’s variable rate is lower, at $5.58 per 100 cubic feet to Lloydminster’s $7.87.
Although their utility rates are among the lowest in the province, some of Moose Jaw’s elected officials weren’t happy to see taxpayers face a nine per cent utility rate increase this year.
The average residential utility bill in Moose Jaw is $71.87 per month – slightly less than the $83.96 a comparable user in Prince Albert pays.
Calling for the rescinding of year’s nine per cent utility rate increase, Moose Jaw Coun. Brian Swanson argued that enough was enough with the increases, during a Dec. 3 council meeting.
“I do think it’s time the citizens of Moose Jaw get a breather from the rate increases for water and sewer,” the Moose Jaw Times Herald quotes him as saying.
Over the past six years, he said that water rates had increased by 67.2 per cent and sewer rates had increased by 91.5 per cent.
At the end of the day, we’re all struggling with the same thing -- a lack of infrastructure money. - Mayor Greg Dionne
Annual rate increases of nine per cent to both the water and sewer utilities are planned in Moose Jaw until 2015, as part of a long-term infrastructure plan similar to the one Prince Albert is beginning.
Large rate increases are being seen in various other cities in Saskatchewan. Estevan residents will see a 10 per cent increase this year and Saskatoon is implementing a 7.5 per cent increase.
In Regina, revenue from utility bills is expected to increase by 9.3 per cent this year.
A City of Regina budget rate document notes that in order to maintain their current quality of infrastructure and services, they will require at least $2 billion over the next 20 years.
The document lists capacity and safety needs, increased regulatory requirements, cost escalation, and aging infrastructure as key reasons for the cost hike.
“Over the next 20 years, a significant portion of our pipe network will need to be relined or replaced at a cost of approximately $500 million,” the document reads.
All of these municipalities and more from across Saskatchewan came together this week to voice their infrastructure concerns at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association Convention in Saskatoon.
As a result of their united need for infrastructure funding, Dionne said that the provincial government is well aware of the financial strain municipalities are forced to place on taxpayers.
“We’re going to continue to work hard,” he said.
Although Prince Albert’s elected officials have set significant utility rate increases over the next few years, he’s hopeful that other levels of government hear municipalities’ call for financial help.
“If we do get an infrastructure grant from the federal or provincial government, or both, that could change our rates coming forward.”
How do Prince Albert rates rank?
The following monthly rates are based on an average residential user who uses 900 cubic feet of water with a 5/8” meter, and an average commercial user who uses 3,000 square feet of water with a 3/4” meter. They’ve been put in an order based on cost to the residential user.
Residential - $64.51
Commercial - $217.01
Moose Jaw (2013)
Residential - $71.87
Commercial - $170.82
Swift Current (2013)
Residential - $74
Commercial - $214.97
Prince Albert (2013)
Residential – $83.96
Commercial - $201.14
Residential - $84.58
Commercial - $255.36
North Battleford (2011)
Residential - $85.52
Commercial - $198
Residential - $86.94
Commercial - $296.97
Residential - $102.57
Commercial - $230.09
Residential - $105.20
Commercial - $271.11