Council bumps water prices for residents, reduces fees for builders
Prince Edward County council approved a by-law that will see rates rise for municipal water and wastewater users in the Count during a meeting on Tuesday evening.
The bylaws were created after an ad-hoc committee was struck at the end of 2015 to review the County’s disparate and financially unsustainable water systems which serve communities in Picton, Bloomfield, Wellington, Carrying Place, Consecon, Ameliasburgh and Peat’s Point.
The recommendation would see water bills rise by an average of five per cent annually, with a higher bump in costs to water consumption (the amount charged per cubic metres of water) than the base rate.
There will also be an increase to bulk water and septic removal fees that will touch rural users on wells and septic systems, but that amount has not yet been determined beyond the first year.
“The plan would be to have [the ad-hoc water and wastewater] committee look at [bulk water and septic rates] and bring those recommendations back to council for future years,” County CAO James Hepburn told council. “We’re setting the rates for septic plants and bulk water. We haven’t set that for the five years. We’re using the current rates until such time as committee’s dealt with it.”
Ameliasburgh councillor Janice Maynard, who sits on the water committee, told council she wasn’t happy with the hike in rates, but says it’s a work in progress toward a more sustainable system.
“This is a long-term plan,” Maynard said. “We made some strides in making sure that we were competitive in some charges to local areas, but to remind everyone that the work is not done on the rates. We have a rate set for 2017… but I’m personally hopeful that we can find some further savings, because I am not happy with the rates that we’re charging for consumption.”
Councillors Dianne O’Brien and Bill Roberts wondered about the longevity of the meeting. Roberts suggested that, as the committee has gathered data and knowledge on water and wastewater, it should remain intact as a commission when the review is complete. Hepburn was skeptical that the County needs such a commission.
“The genesis of our water was there is a commission. There was a Picton commission, a Wellington commission, as there was in Bloomfield. That was something that was disbanded a number of years ago when the County amalgamated and took over these services,” Hepburn explained. “As far as I’m concerned, this is our utilities commission right here, the 16 member who sit at this horseshoe.”
Before voting on the by-law, Maynard stopped to ask Hepburn if the annual five per cent hike would be set in stone, or whether council could review it each year. Hepburn made no promises that the rate hikes would be softened.
“We will bring it to council, but we are effectively setting for the five years now,” Hepburn told the councillors. “If there were a dramatic change in our financial situation, as we’ve discussed, if we are able to find savings that allow us to lower rates, we would look at it.”
The first change comes into effect on Saturday July 1, with another increase on January 1, 2018.
Encouraging new building
At the same time, council was presented with a bylaw to change water and wastewater connection charges for new builds in the County.
The new bylaw, which is also set to come into effect on Saturday, would lower the cost of connection charges for new buildings using both municipal water and wastewater services. It’s part of an effort to increase total users, a move council hopes will reduce the cost of the expensive service to all users on the long term.
The connection fee for a single dwelling with more than bedrooms was reduced by $2,162.11 to a total of $10,339, for two or less bedrooms it was reduced by $1,518.80 to $7,264. For apartments with two or more bedrooms, the rate was dropped to $8,302 from $10,038.51, and for smaller apartments it dropped to $5,727 from $6,924.15.
An additional fee, the cost per square foot of space also dropped from $5.44 to $5.08.
The bylaw also allows for a further 30 per cent reduction on water and wastewater connection fees for affordable housing units where the cost to buy or rent is at least 25 per cent lower than the average price for the same unit, a price determined the County’s building officer.
Connection fees are set to aid the County in recovering costs associated with new connections to its water treatment facilities and in the maintenance of its systems.