Resident’s water rate case against City, SRD sneaks in under deadline

Case should continue in Supreme Court this fall

An Area D resident’s case against both the City of Campbell River and the Strathcona Regional District over water rate hikes got to court just in time to proceed.

The case will now resume sometime later in the year.

In B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo last week, lawyers for both the city and SRD made the case around the timing of the petition launched by Area D resident Robert Benoit. The case was heard over two days, on Aug. 7 and 8.

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

The regional district’s counsel tried to argue the case did not fall within a two-month window from when the SRD board passed its new water rate bylaw.

“That claim is being brought under the Local Government Act, and that section of the Local Government Act requires that it be heard within two months,” said Benoit’s lawyer, Lisa Low.

As a result, Aug. 7 was the last day for the case to go to court.

“With the statutory holidays in between, we were still within that two months,” she said.

The SRD’s counsel had hoped to adjourn the matter, which would have extended the case past the deadline.

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

Low was able to present Benoit’s case before Justice Barbara Young by the end of the day on Aug. 8.

“With just a few minor issues that need to be dealt with … he’s got his case in,” Low said. “Then it will be left open to the Strathcona Regional District and Campbell River’s counsel to respond.”

Sara Dubinsky, who is representing the City of Campbell River, said her client as well as the regional district will present their cases when the matter resumes.

“The City has already filed its affidavit, as has the SRD,” she told the Mirror on Monday. “We both filed our affidavits and our responses to the petition.”

At issue, according to Benoit’s petition, is whether the city, which is the bulk water supplier to residents in the north part of Area D, overstepped its powers by charging for costs beyond the cost of supplying the water on the grounds that, as Area D residents live outside the city, the city does not have other means of funding the system, such as development cost charges or parcel taxes. Another question is the legality of the rate increase in the absence of a signed agreement. Area D Director Brenda Leigh has not supported the rate hikes and has not signed an agreement, according to her own affidavit.

Another question for the case is around cost, with Benoit asking that if his petition is successful, he receive special costs, or if not, that no costs be imposed against him. Benoit and his neighbour Jamie Wood started collecting funds for the case from other residents in the north part of Area D. (Residents in the south part of the electoral area are on a different water system.) The residents estimate their costs will be approximately $15,000.

Meanwhile, an SRD staff report from July estimates its case will cost $40,000. There is no estimate on city costs, as the City of Campbell River is not commenting on the case at this time.

Initially, the parties hoped to resume the case over a couple of days in September, but because of scheduling issues, it will most likely take place later in the year.

“We decided, to be safe, we’ll set it for another two days in front of the same judge,” Dubinsky said. “We don’t have confirmation yet as to when it will be. We’ve provided dates for the remainder of the fall.”

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