Nelson set for rate hike on water, sewer despite continuing COVID
After allowing Nelsonites some leniency with payment of water and sewer bills when COVID-19 first descended in 2020, the city is now planning to hike some of its rates for 2021 despite the pandemic continuing.
The City of Nelson’s council voted in favour of a two per cent rise for water and a 1.5 per cent hike for sewer — adding up to a $17.10 increase overall for the year for the average Nelson homeowner — but only for residential rates.
“This was to recognize what a challenging year it has been in the business sectors and to provide them some utility expense relief as they try to recover in 2021,” noted city chief financial officer Colin McClure in his report to council.
The increases arose out of what council determined to be “financial pressure that has resulted from the pandemic,” as they tried to rectify future operational and capital requirements.
Some major sewage treatment plans improvements are going to be required in the near future, McClure explained, so the reallocation of rates between wastewater and water utilities stayed in place.
“This is being done in order to build the sewer reserve in order to assist in funding the expected future significant capital upgrades while keeping both the utilities fees at inflationary increases going forward,” he explained.
The purpose is to ensure that rates are set at a level that ensures sufficient funds are available to cover the annual operating and capital expenses, and provides for adequate reserves to fund future capital expenditures.
The water and wastewater utilities are based on a fee-for-service model.
Council held public budget working sessions in late 2020 to review and set the 2021 water and wastewater utility rates.
McClure noted that there were no changes proposed to the resource recovery rates, therefore no amendment was required to the fees and charges for those rates in 2021.
The pandemic delayed the update on the 10-year-old Sewer Master Plan in 2020 but is expected to be completed in 2021.
Additional funds were added to conduct a review of the current location and model of the sewage treatment plant (STP) and determine whether there is an opportunity or the ability to change the location and style of treatment considering the many new technologies that exist, noted a city staff report to council.
“Part of the previous year’s discussion revolved around the recent significant increase in the strength of effluent being handled at the plant and that a major upgrade would be required,” the report read.
In 2019, staff were doing research and analysis on where the high strength effluent was coming from as well as working with certain businesses in trying to pretreat the effluent before it enters the city’s wastewater system.
With the pandemic this analysis was put on hold, however, the plan is to is restart this work with the goal to report back to council on the progress in 2021.
Source: City of Nelson
Completed and recommended capital upgrades for 2020 and 2021:
The two kilometre waterline from Selous Creek to the Mountain Station reservoir was completed in 2020. This was part I of the III phase $6 million Strategic Priorities government grant funded project that was approved in 2018.
For 2021, phase II and III, which are the 1.7 km piping of Anderson Creek to the Mountain station reservoir and a required pump station are to be undertaken. This is budgeted at a cost of $4,400,000 and will at times restrict the public access to the rail trail, said McClure.
In 2020, the city successfully replaced .9 km in water lines with the plan in 2021 to replace another .4 km.
The pandemic resulted in a delay of the 2020 plan to have an update completed on the Wastewater master plan.
With Highway 3A being repaved this past summer the city took advantage of being able to replace the 60-year-old sanitary force-main running underneath the highway down in the Railtown area.
The move to the recycle bins has been smooth, however, due to COVID-19 the new dual compartment truck did not arrive until the end of the year, which increased costs and resources required to collect garbage and recyclables.
With the new truck and the major change of moving to collecting recycling by a blue bin, staff have not requested any changes to the current resource recovery rates for 2021.
“However, as the city works on an ambitious and unique plan to divert organics by using a ‘food cycler’ staff have requested that the $35 lift in 2020 to purchase blue recycling bins be left in place to assist in funding the proposed organics diversion program,” said McClure.
The plan is still in the detailed development stage and the city will be applying for a grant under the Clean BC funding stream.
It is expected that the earliest this organics diversion program be in place is the fall of 2021.