Discussion about relief for high water rates in Strathcona Regional District’s Electoral Area D raised passions at the Electoral Area Services Committee meeting held last week.
Area D, located just south of Campbell River, contracts out to the City of Campbell River for a portion of its water services. That contract stipulates that rates charged cover the cost of bulk water purchased from the city, as well as any maintenance, operations and upgrades to the system. Over the years, the rates have been increasing, and now director Brenda Leigh says they have reached the point where some fixed-income seniors cannot afford to pay them.
“We’re paying quadruple what people in Campbell River pay for water,” Leigh said during the meeting.
According to the SRD website, in 2020 residential water rates in electoral area D were $1.66 per cubic metre of water, plus an annual user fee of $510. By comparison, Campbell River users for the same period were $0.68 per cubic metre for metred users (non-residential) with a minimum charge of $23.25 per month, or a flat rate of $34 per month for non-metred (residential) users. City residents do not pay a user fee.
Those water rates are, Leigh said: “more than all other taxes combined.”
“I’m telling the people who complain to me that the board doesn’t care,” she added. “The board votes with Campbell River and Campbell River sits with their five or six board members and votes on their own contracts,” referring to the Campbell River City Councillors who are also SRD Board members.
“It’s such an undemocratic, unacceptable way of operating a regional district, and I really object to… the total lack of compassion for people that are really struggling right now.”
In a previous meeting, the committee asked staff to prepare a report on how roughly 350 residents in the northern part of Area D could get relief from these rates. SRD staff had listed external sources, like the B.C. Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Benefit and the BC Hydro Customer Crisis Fund, but Leigh was more interested in things that could be done internally at the SRD.
Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch told Leigh that “there are no internal alternatives. We don’t have programs to provide relief for utility bills.”
Leigh added that she could consider going beyond the regional district to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to ask them to reinstate part of the Community Charter requiring communities to get rate bylaws approved before they get fourth reading. However, in the meantime a motion by Leigh that staff come back to the committee with a list of things the SRD can do internally to help with the high rates was passed.