Area D Brenda Leigh wants the rates reduced to 2016 levels. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Leigh wants Strathcona Regional District budget amended over water rates

Area D Director cites punitive water rates as a reason to slow down process

Area D Director Brenda Leigh let it be known she won’t support an upcoming Strathcona Regional District budget provision for her area’s water rates.

As she is in the midst of a dispute with the SRD and the City of Campbell River over bulk water rate costs, so the move hardly came as a surprise. A resident in her region has also gone to court with the SRD and the City over last year’s water rate hike. The sides finished making their cases in December, and the decision is still pending.

RELATED STORY: Campbell River and Strathcona Regional District in court this week over water rates

At the Feb. 13 meeting the SRD looked at its pending financial plan, which staff have been preparing for adoption by the end of March.

At the point in the meeting when Leigh raised the issue, the Campbell River directors recused themselves from that portion, citing a potential conflict of interest. As Julie Colborne, the Zeballos mayor and director, was absent, the meeting would have come to an end had Leigh also recused herself, but she said she was not in conflict.

“It doe not deal with the subject of the court case,” she said. “I feel I’m not in conflict on this yet. I may be in the very near future.”

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With chair Michele Babchuk out of the room, vice-chair Brad Unger took over chairing the meeting temporarily.

For the future rate hike, Leigh immediately expressed her opposition to the remaining members of the board, saying Area D was opposing charges of $1.89 million for drinking water for people in the north part of her electoral area who receive bulk water from the City of Campbell River.

RELATED STORY: Strathcona Regional District hikes water rates for rural area

“Any director who votes in favour of that has not done their homework,” she said.

Unger quickly warned her. “Don’t carry on like that,” he said.

In response to Leigh’s proposed amendment, chief administrative office Dave Leitch said if the motion passed, it would result in a deficit budget, which the SRD cannot legally have.

Leigh wanted the amendment for her region’s water rates for 2019 to reduce the bulk water purchase cost to 2016 levels, but she could not muster the support and was the only vote in favour.

“I want to be recorded,” she added.

There was some question about how far along to move the bylaw for the financial plan in order to incorporate any public input. No member of the public came forward at the meeting to comment on the budget. The SRD had also held advertised meetings on the budget over two days in late January to gain input.

Leigh suggested the bylaw be held at second reading, and she was the sole vote opposing motions for third reading and to bring back the bylaw at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 28 for reconsideration and adoption. She also wanted to change the wording of the bylaw to remove the phrase concerning adoption. Instead, she suggested the bylaw wording say the financial plan would come back at the meeting only for consideration. The motion failed to gain any support.