Area D Director ‘100 per cent’ against ‘unconscionable’ water rate hikes

The Strathcona Regional District has approved a significant increase to water rates in Area D

The Strathcona Regional District has approved a significant increase to water rates in Area D, a move that the area director called “unconscionable.”

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Area D Director Brenda Leigh was incensed by the board’s approval of a more than 50 per cent increase to her area’s water rates.

The board, with the exception of directors Leigh, Jim Abram and Gerald Whalley, voted to raise rates in order to avoid running a deficit.

Regional district staff wrote in a report to the board that residential rates need to increase from $260 to $402 per year and non-residential user rates need to increase from $286 to $442 minimum per year in order to meet revenue targets in the regional district’s 2016 financial plan.

But Leigh said she failed to see any justification for the increase and refused to accept it.

“I will be appealing to the community services minister and to others that may be able to look into the legality of this bylaw,” Leigh said.

“There’s no rationale behind this bylaw and I will not be explaining to my constituents why this bylaw is in place because there is no reasonable explanation being offered. An increase to our utility bills by 54 per cent by the City of Campbell River is absolutely unconscionable.”

Area D’s water rates are in part based off the rate that the City of Campbell River – which supplies the water – charges. The city charges Area D residents 1.6 times the annual rate that city residents are charged and because the city’s water rates have increased this year, Area D’s rates go up as a consequence.

A 9.4 per cent increase this year in the bulk water rate now has rates sitting at $0.93 per cubic metre.

Regional district staff Dawn Christenson and Patti Wells said that increase is “compounded by the four per cent increase in predicted water consumption, leading to a total bulk water cost increase of nearly $75,000. Additionally, in 2015, accumulated surplus was depleted by $190,000, a gap that must be recovered from other sources.”

Leigh, who was clearly unhappy with the move, said she did not want to be held responsible.

“I will refer any questions regarding this bylaw to (regional district) staff and they will need to answer those questions because I am fully, 100 per cent against this bylaw,” Leigh said.

This is not the first time that Leigh has been upset over water rates.

More than three years ago the City of Campbell River attempted to raise water rates for Area D from $0.40 per cubic metre to $0.80.

After more than two years of negotiations, in April of 2014, the city accepted an offer from the regional district and settled on a $0.63 per cubic metre increase, retroactive to 2013, and a $0.72 increase for 2014.

Area D residents pay more for water than Campbell River residents as per a city policy to charge higher rates to water users outside of the city limits in order to cover water delivery costs.

The higher cost also compensates for water charges that customers within the city pay but that the city is unable to collect from customers outside the city limits.

The city’s water rates are based on the funding required to cover the annual operating and maintenance costs for the water system, as well as upgrading and replacing the various components of the water system (pipes, pumps, treatment facilities, and reservoirs) as the water system ages and as the community grows.