Quadra sewer users frustrated with SRD over high sewer rates

A spokesperson for a group of Quathiaski Cove ratepayers, frustrated over high sewer costs, asked for the resignation of the SRD's CAO

A spokesperson for a group of Quathiaski Cove ratepayers suggested the Strathcona Regional District’s chief administrative officer resign.

The group is frustrated by skyrocketing sewer system charges.

Joe Duprey, owner of Quadra Island’s the Landing Pub in Quathiaski Cove, said at a regional board meeting Thursday afternoon that the 101 property owners hooked up to the island’s sewer system are fed up with waiting for answers as to why their sewer user fees have increased so substantially.

“We demand an immediate rollback of the 2012 user fees increase,” Duprey said, noting an ongoing petition to lower the rates is circulating around Quadra and has so far been signed by 90 per cent of the sewer users.

Sewer user fees for residential homes have risen from $299 in 2011 to $692 in 2012 while the basic commercial rate has gone from $1,196 to $2,769. Charges for the school have increased from $7,774 to $17,997.

Duprey and eight other ratepayers met with Brian Reardon, the Strathcona Regional District’s Chief Administrative Officer, in October and in November, and laid out a list of questions they want answered including why Quadra sewer users are paying so much. On December 5, Duprey said he received an e-mail from then board chair Craig Anderson saying the ratepayers’ questions would be answered in a report early in the new year.

Duprey said last week he was still waiting to hear back and frustration is mounting.

“Since Mr. Reardon is unable to work with us, maybe Mr. Reardon should consider resigning,” Duprey said at last Thursday’s board meeting, which forced board chair Ted Lewis to declare a point of order and cut off Duprey’s criticism of individual staff members.

Quadra area director Jim Abram pointed out that a report from Reardon, answering some of the ratepayers questions, was added to the board meeting agenda, however not everything was covered.

Abram said the question of spreading out the sewer charges over the entire island, even to those property owners not using the sewer system, was rejected in Reardon’s report.

Reardon explained that there is case law in B.C. that protects property owners from that type of taxation and that the board should “not give serious consideration to (that) option.”

Abram said the question of what the user fees would be if a private entity ran the sewer system was also not fully answered. Reardon said he would need to solicit proposals from private companies in order to provide those cost estimates.

Abram predicted at a board meeting in October that the regional district would find angry residents on its doorstep in the absence of a timely solution.

“We’re going to have a delegation of people here that are going to ream staff out, they already have to me…because of sewer charges and they’re not going down,” Abram said at the time.

Abram was speaking to a sewer expansion project that would have extended service to 53 properties in Quathiaski Cove. The project, however, did not garner enough support in what Abram has said was not a fair and accurate petition process. He added that had the project been approved, the additional property owners paying into the system could have pushed user fees down by roughly 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, Duprey doesn’t understand why other electoral areas within the Strathcona Regional District are paying far less for similar service.

“All we’re asking for is the same fair sewer rates enjoyed by other regions in this district,” Duprey said. He noted that residential sewer rates in Zeballos are $204, $216 in Sayward and $222 in Tahsis.

“How are you able to come in around a $215 average and ours is $692?” Duprey asked.

Lewis, the mayor of Zeballos, said only 17 households in the village are on a sewer system, but the service is also sold to the local First Nations. Lewis admitted the sewer system is in “a precarious situation as we speak. We’re trying to discuss how we can sustain it ourselves.” Zeballos is also on a parcel tax system.

In Sayward, those who joined the sewer system paid the costs up front, including Sayward Futures Society which contributed $33,000, said Sayward Mayor John MacDonald.

“How we keep it low is that we charged at the beginning and it’s a big cost to them,” MacDonald said.

Tahsis Mayor Jude Schooner said infrastructure in Tahsis was already in existence, which has kept costs down in that community.

The Quadra sewer system was originally private but then sold to the Comox Strathcona Regional District 13 years ago for just $1. The Strathcona Regional District took over in 2008 after it became a separate entity from the Comox Valley Regional District.

The ratepayers and Abram will meet within the next 14 days to discuss the issue and try to come up with some creative solutions to lowering the sewer costs.