Nelson raises household water and sewer rate by $24.30 per year
Nelson’s residential water rates will increase by 3% and sewer rates by 2% for 2015, as follows:
The rates were approved by city council at its January 19 meeting.
About fifteen years ago, Nelson council recognized that it was faced with a crisis of aging and rotting water and sewer lines, some of them up to one hundred years old, with no money to do the replacements. In 2005, the council made a plan for annual rate increases over a 25-year period to pay the cost of gradually replacing aging pipes.
That’s why Nelson residents see the streets being dug up in a different part of town every summer.
How much has been done and how much it’s costing
The city has been averaging a replacement of 1.8 km of water line per year at an average cost of $828 per meter since 2006, and 2.5 kilometers per year of sewer line at an average cost of $206 per meter since 2010, according to city staff.
In 2014, the city spent about $1.2 million to upgrade sewer lines and about $1.6 million on waterline upgrades.
Councillor Bob Adams told council that the city is ahead of schedule on its sewer and water replacement plan and that the cost is lower than projected with the plan was written.
It’s the pipes that cost money, not the water itself
Chief Financial Officer Colin McClure explained to council members that because Nelson receives its water by gravity feed, there is no correlation between the amount of water a household uses and the cost of it, because the cost is all in infrastructure such as pipes, not in pumping and treatment of water as in many other municipalities.
The perception that we have an endless supply of free water is the reason the idea of water metering has not been popular in Nelson, even though in some summers city hall imposes water use restrictions.
Rates for businesses use a different system
The tax increases discussed at the meeting, and described above, are about water and sewer for residences, not businesses and institutions, which are billed according to the number of sinks and toilets, or in the case of restaurants by the number of seats. The city recently installed a number of water meters in some businesses for research purposes, as a first step to possibly changing its method of charging businesses, and the results will be ready by the fall of 2015.
Water and sewer discounts for secondary suites
At the January 19 council meeting there was some discussion of the 50% discount on water and sewer that the city gives residents for secondary suites that conform to the building code. Owners of suites that are non-conforming pay the full rate for the suite.
McClure said that at the moment there are 265 conforming and 132 non-conforming suites in the city. He said the main issues regarding conformance relate to fire separation (not having fire resistant drywall installed between suite and home) and lack of an escape route in case of fire (windows that are too small).
Councillor Michael Dailly questioned whether the 50% discount for suites should be even larger.
“Our housing report shows we are short about 200 rental units,” he said, “so (we should) encourage the building of those, and if that means even further reducing the discount to get more secondary suites built, we should look at that, to increase housing.”
“Previous councils have discussed this,” said Mayor Deb Kozak. “Should it be more, should it be less, and if we do have a lower charge for suites would that saving be passed on to renters? We continue to have those discussions.”
She said this could be part of the council’s upcoming annual budget deliberations.
Councillor Janice Morrison said she thinks the rates are almost too low because there is still a lot of capital work to do and council should make sure it has the financial reserves to carry it out.