Area D’s water utility is not paying for itself, in part because of heavy use. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Regional district considers water rate hikes south of Campbell River

Utility rates failing to meet costs or generate reserve funds

The water utility in the Strathcona Regional District’s Area D seems to have sprung a leak, as the service is facing higher costs versus revenue.

A recent SRD Electoral Area Services Committee report outlines the issue the Strathcona Regional District is facing. Revenue from the water rates in 2017 totalled $522,475, which fell short by $221,390. Later, the report suggests the amount of revenue is half of what would be required to break even in 2018. The SRD is estimating it will need $1,001,951 in revenue from user rates.

According to the Local Government Act, regional district boards must set utility fees and charges at rates sufficient to recover any expenditures. The SRD board is now in a position where it must consider steep rates hikes.

The recent SRD report suggests the cost of the utility is going up both from the bulk water supplier, which is the City of Campbell River, as well as from increasing use by residents. Water use has gone from 621,664 cubic metres in 2013 to almost 850,000 cubic metres in 2017. The 2018 level is 970,547 cubic metres.

From anticipated expenses, the cost of the bulk water makes up the largest portion. There are some expected additional expenses from administration, maintenance, operations and studies or engineering fees. Currently, there is a study underway to look for alternate sources. At present, nothing is set aside as a transfer to reserve funds for future capital costs, such as new infrastructure or failing water mains, with the deficit estimated at $221,390.

The question of water service rate hikes is not new for the SRD, as five years ago the regional district board visited the issue but held off on increasing Area D rates.

RELATED STORY: Area D water rate hikes put off for now

Area D Director Brenda Leigh told the Mirror she could not speak to the matter at this time.

“I can’t talk about that right now because there’s some in-camera matters,” she said.

She also questioned why a member of the SRD board from outside the area made the motion. Minutes from the May 9 meeting indicated Mayor John MacDonald of Sayward made the motion to bring an Area D water rates bylaw to the next board meeting on May 24. The motion passed with Leigh voting in opposition.

“I have no idea what it has to do with Sayward,” she said.

The committee report shows the board could be considering a proposal to raise rates for commercial metered customers to $1.45 per cubic metre and to $1.36 per cubic metre for residential customers on meters, representing hikes of more than $0.16 and $0.19 from 2017 rates, respectively. Most residential customers pay a flat rate, though, and could see their rates jump from $402 up to $800 per dwelling unit for the year.

There are roughly 1,200 property owners in the northern portion of the Area D that are covered by the water service. Of these, only about four per cent are on water meters. In all, there are 42 metered connections, of which 12 are commercial. The large majority of residential customers pay flat rates.

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