By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily
Rates for water and sewer are going up this year, but the City needed to more to ease the weight of the increases, says one City councilor who voted against the rate hikes.
Coun. Kim Charlesworth expressed her displeasure on the seven per cent increase to sewer rates (around $25.20) and a nine per cent jump in water rates ($35.10) for a total increase for a single family dwelling of $60.30 ($810.90 overall for 2011).
She was recorded opposed to the increases in the rates, something council had agreed to three years ago in order to begin the task of replacing aging and crumbling infrastructure in the two utilities.
Her opposition to the increases gave Mayor John Dooley pause as the motions for the increases passed.
“Are you are okay with the plan we have, but not okay with the fee structure?” he asked.
“I just feel we could have done a little bit more to ease the burden for people on this,” said Coun. Charlesworth.
But Nelson has a huge aging infrastructure that the City has to upkeep and upgrade, said Coun. Robin Cherbo.
“I speak in favour of (an increase), and I don't know if it is fair or not fair,” he said.
Even though some people have raised concerns that they are in favour of water metering — so they would only have to pay for their usage of water — council still has to develop some sort of process that also covers the cost of the water and sewer network and the upgrade.
“Until we can determine what is a different process to do that, we have to go with this (increase),” he explained.
Within the cost of delivering a service there is a fixed cost and a variable cost, said Coun. Donna Macdonald. For the water system, it includes the replacing of the pipes, the water intake and the water treatment plant.
The estimate for that is really 90 per cent fixed, and 10 per cent of the cost is consumption, she said.
“We are really going to be surprised that there would not be that much change in the cost to us (if we metered) because 90 per cent of the cost is fixed, and that is the work we’re really tackling with our infrastructure upgrade,” Coun. Macdonald said.
Coun. Deb Kozak agreed.
“Just because we know how much water people are using doesn’t mean that water rates might go down, it’s about funding the system we have,” she pointed out.
But the City has to find a better and a more equitable way to fund the city’s commercial customers, she added.
City staff have received some direction through two recent workshops on how to address the rates. They are expected to make a report to council within the next two months on their findings and council will be dealing with that issue this year.
The rate increase will be in effect starting in April.
Power rates surge upward as well
Add the rising cost of the water and the sewer utility payments to the 9.6 per cent rate increase Nelson Hydro is recommending and it is beginning to look like a leaner winter for many Nelsonites.
“Our utility rates are lower than anywhere else in the country I would bet,” said Coun. Marg Stacey.
“I know 9.6 per cent is an ouch, but not when you are looking at big picture.”
Inflationary costs, wage and material costs going up, combine with increased power purchase costs to account for much of the needed increase, a City staff report said.
As well, Nelson Hydro is putting aside more money for capital improvements in the future.
The 9.6 per cent rate increase will result in a revenue increase of 6.62 per cent to the utility in 2011. The rate change will come into effect on the April Nelson Hydro billing statements.