Area D Director Brenda Leigh says the court decision is appealable. Submitted photo

Area D Director Leigh says water rate case is appealable

Strathcona Regional District continues to hike rates toward cost recovery for service

Area D Director Brenda Leigh, who has continually fought the increase to water rates in the north part of her area, does not think the battle is over following a recent court decision.

At the first regular board meeting since Justice Barbara M. Young handed down her decision on March 15, Leigh expects the petitioner, Robert Benoit, an Area D resident, could launch an appeal.

Following hearings in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo last year, Young gave her decision, upholding the Strathcona Regional District’s right to bring in a bylaw to recover the cost of the water, which is provided in bulk by the City of Campbell River. As well, she was satisfied the rates reflected the cost to provide the service. Both the regional and municipal government were respondents in the case. As part of this, the SRD stated it would recover legal costs for the case through the Area D water service.

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The discussion at the May 28 SRD meeting of the reasons for judgment in the court case was brief. Leigh, who had signed an affidavit for the case, again declared she was in conflict of interest and left the room, though first she said, “This issue’s still under review by the Area D water defence fund people, and it is appealable, so I’m going to leave.”

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The board simply voted to receive the report and invited Leigh to return to the meeting.

A subsequent item on the agenda delved into the matter of water rates, with a proposed amendment to the rates bylaw. Again, Leigh expressed opposition to another rate hike for residents in the north part of Area D.

A staff report recommended increasing the user rates to recover the cost to provide the service, adding that it is required by law that they operate services on a balanced budget basis. It also notes efforts the regional district has undertaken to get residents to reduce water use.

The report also includes a table outlining the existing rates, which were raised last year, and the proposed amounts for 2019. For residential users on meters, the amount would go from $1.36 per cubic metre to $1.56 plus a user fee increase from $415 up to $480. For non-residential metered customers, the rate would go from $1.45 up to $1.67 and the user fee from $450 up to $520.

Most residential customers are not on meters. For them, the user fee would jump from $800 up to $920. For non-residential customers, the amount increases from $1,200 to $1,380.

The board passed a motion for these amendments to the Area D water rates and regulations bylaw be prepared for the board’s consideration. Leigh and Area A Director Gerald Whalley opposed the motion.

RELATED STORY: Leigh wants Strathcona Regional District budget amended over water rates

“For our rate to be going from $1.36 to a $1.56 when the City of Campbell River residents pay on 68 cents is blatantly unfair,” Leigh said. “This is an element in our environment that should be easily accessible in our regional district. We should be supporting each other with water and services that are essential…. What’s next? Are you going to start taxing the air? This is something that people need.”

She added the regional district needs to think about being “more regional” and supplying services at a reasonable level.

“This is not reasonable,” she added.”