The Strathcona Regional District is moving ahead on plans to revisit water rates for the northern part of Area D, with or without the area director.
At the May 24 meeting, the board passed a number motions aimed at proceeding with a review of water rates, although Area D Director Brenda Leigh vote against several of the motions.
These include motions to conduct a system audit to ensure bylaw provisions are being enforced at all primary and secondary dwellings, that a report be prepared on options for universal metering and that a water demand strategy be developed and presented to the board, along with options for 2019 water rates, once results of summer water conservation efforts are known. Leigh did not oppose the last item.
She and Sayward’s Mayor John MacDonald and Area A Director Gerald Whalley also opposed a motion to update Bylaw 2838 to reflect rate increases identified in a report from staff from May 3.
According to the recent SRD report, the water utility is not paying and would need the regional district to raise metered rates to $1.45 per cubic metre for commercial and to $1.36 per cubic metre for residential customers, representing hikes of more than $0.16 and $0.19 from 2017, and hike flat rates for unmetered properties, which represent the vast majority of the 1,200 property owners, from $402 up to $800 per dwelling unit.
Following discussions earlier this month, Leigh refrained from commenting because of aspects to the issue she said were still at the “in camera” or confidential stage.
At the latest meeting, she reiterated this concern.
“There are issues that still need to be clarified,” she told the rest of the board. “I think we need a legal opinion.”
She is concerned that moving ahead on water rate bylaw changes would mean the SRD is endorsing non-compliant zoning use when it comes to illegal secondary suites.
“I think the zoning issue is pre-eminent to the water use,” she said.
Leigh told the board she preferred to revisit questions such as metering in 2019 in order to give the regional district a chance to take a closer inspection of properties in the part of Area D in question that had secondary suites and presumably using more water. She added that she feels ultimately only a few are taking unfair advantage of unmetered rates and that the SRD should be educating residents about ways to conserve water.
Leigh hoped to send the matter back to the Electorial Areas Service Committee for further discussion.
“I want to make sure that we get it right,” she added.
The majority of the SRD board felt the question of secondary suites was a separate issue, meaning the regional district does not have to hold off on a bylaw to review rates for the water utility.
Mayor Andy Adams of Campbell River questioned the need to hold off taking measures to reduce water use now, as opposed to in 2019. Other directors emphasized the board’s motion for actions such as an audit should provide a clearer picture around water use in the area.
“To me, it is all about getting better data,” said Coun. Charlie Cornfield from Campbell River.