A 38 per cent jump in annual sewer fees was deemed necessary to keep the Quathiaski Cove sewer system running on Quadra Island, despite the local area director trying to find any other option to help keep those fees down.
“Unfortunately, this year, the cost escalated to the point where there was nothing else that could be done except raise the fees. I adamantly opposed that. For many, many many months I was a pain in the butt to deal with as far as the regional district is concerned,” said Quadra Island local area director Jim Abram. “I opposed it on a regular basis until the very end when it was made clear to me that if we did not requisition that money from the using public that the sewer system was not going to be able to operate.”
“That is an absolutely devastating situation,” he added.
Going into the start of budget season for the SRD, users of the service are looking at a jump from $575 per year for a single dwelling unit to $795 per year. Abram said that although he did everything he could to keep that jump small, the aging plant has faced some costly repairs and a small tax base has had to shoulder much of the costs associated with those repairs.
“I’ve managed to keep the costs as low as possible over the years, and that has now come back to bite us to a degree in that qualified professionals are looking after the system and are requiring that certain things be replaced,” he said.
The system was purchased by the then-Comox Strathcona Regional District, which had more resources available than the current smaller Strathcona Regional District and more taxable residents to help spread the costs of large projects out. Part of those resources included a stockpile of spare parts for water and sewage treatment systems, Abram said, some of which were used by the Quathiaski Cove plant at a low cost. However, since the split of the regional districts in 2008, the focus has been on keeping the plant running at a minimal cost.
“In the meantime, capital infrastructure repairs have mounted over time, and we haven’t really been able to keep up with the needs of the system,” Abram said. “It has basically just been to keep it running, not to improve it, not to replace it, just to keep it running and keep the cost as low as possible. Everybody knows that the users are paying for this, and it’s a very, very hefty cost.”
The facility has seen some expensive repairs in the past year, including a new outfall pipe and other capital improvements to meet current environmental standards.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to put a big chunk of money every year into reserves. So when something breaks down, we can draw on the reserves. We’ve drawn on reserves to the max, we basically have no reserves,” Abram said.
It is also nearing the end of its life and will require replacement in the near future, something Abram and the SRD staff are working hard to ensure they can afford without going to the users. There are a number of properties in the area which could be added to the tax base, an option Abram said that they are pursuing. However, that would entail adding more density to the island, which would bring a host of other challenges.
The 38 per cent jump won’t be applied to the 2020 tax bill, Abram said. As the regional district goes into their budgetary process, he has asked people to submit their ideas to SRD staff, who he wants to look into every option no matter how unlikely it is that it succeeds.
“I’m sorry that my community has to put up with it and be subjected to it, but I think they need to be talking to our Regional District staff with positive solutions,” Abram said. “They’re the ones that are going to actually implement them.”
The SRD budget is finalized at the end of March, which will include the proposed requisition unless other options are identified.