Testy emails have become the weapon of choice in the escalating war of words between taxed-to-the-max Quadra Island sewer system ratepayers and by-the-book Strathcona Regional District (SRD) bureaucrats.
More than 100 of Quadra’s Quathiaski Cove property owners are reeling from sewer system charges that have skyrocketed in one year.
The basic residential charge has gone from $299 in 2011 to $692.
The basic commercial rate has increased from $1,196 to $2,769.
And, the school rate has soared from $7,774 to $17,997.
On Oct. 12, Quathiaski Cove Landing Pub owner Joe Duprey, who is paying more than $3,400 to flush his toilets, and eight other ratepayers met with the SRD Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Brian Reardon and placed several demands on the table including immediate relief from the onerous sewer fees.
Since then a gritty exchange of e-mails has substituted for diplomacy and problem solving.
After the meeting the “Q-Cove Nine” fired off a list of demands including: A rollback of rates, an updated comparative list of other sewer charges in B.C., an explanation from the SRD directors that voted for the new charge, the formation of a joint SRD and ratepayers committee to find a solution and more.
“We have the most expensive sewer system in B.C.
“We simply cannot afford to pay these increased rates and keep our heads above water,” Duprey told the Mirror.
Last week Reardon responded with his own blunt e-mail, taking refuge in the strict confines of the rules that govern his job.
“The regional district is unable to ‘roll back’ the user fees as you have requested without incurring a structural deficit,” he wrote.
“The requisition amounts were set when the board approved the annual budget in March 2012. The Local Government Act is quite specific about the manner in which the regional district can recover its costs to provide its services. Each service is a separate function that through legislation must pay the costs to provide the service.”
Reardon would not comment on what board members “may or may not have been thinking when they voted on the annual budget and the user fee bylaw that increased the rates for Q-Cove sewer.
“What I can state is that the regional board considers these matters and takes into account the facts presented in a staff report along with the comments of the electoral area director prior to voting on the matter.”
The Strathcona Regional District chief administrative officer said he “would be prepared to form an adhoc working group comprised of SRD staff members and residents in the Q-Cove Sewer Service Area to meet on an as needed basis.”
Needless to say, Duprey is not amused.
“The SRD and the directors imposed these unjust taxes therefore it is up to you and them to correct them,” he e-mailed back Monday.
Repeating his earlier demand, Duprey wrote:
“The board of directors who voted for these unfair increases should explain their reasons.”
He reminded Reardon that he had not asked the chief administrative officer to try and explain the board’s thinking, he asked the board members to step up and explain their actions.
“The SRD has been running this system since 2008 and we believe that it is high time for your staff to start taking responsibility and stop the blame game,” the Quadra pub owner stated.
Finally he questioned why Quadra ratepayers should participate on an adhoc committee.
“Mr. Reardon you have already stated you can’t roll back these taxes, so … why meet?
“We respectfully suggest (it is time) for the SRD to start taking action and stop making excuses.”
Electoral Area C Director Jim Abram says he expects Reardon will be “offended” by the latest Quadra folly, but he hopes the adhoc committee proposal moves ahead and explores solutions “outside the norm” including expansion of the sewer system or a modest island-wide environmental fee.
He says at present the “horrendous” sewer rates are a line item in the proposed 2013 SRD budget.