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Victoria boosts water and sewer utility rates

Nov 16 2012
City hall ratified a proposal to boost utility rates Thursday. 

City hall ratified a proposal to boost utility rates Thursday.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , Times Colonist

- Average hike for homeowner: $43

- Commercial-property hit: $1,032

Victoria homeowners will pay more for service at both ends of the pipe next year as city council is hiking both water and sewer utility rates.

The combined increases will total about $43 for the average homeowner and $1,032 for the average commercial property owner.

Councillors Lisa Helps and Shellie Gudgeon were dismayed that the utility rates continue to rise with apparently little the council can do to stop it.

"In the long term, I don't know what the answer is but we can't just keep increasing these rates year over year," Helps said.

"Whatever the levers are, we need to figure a way to try to address this."

Under proposals ratified by the governance and priorities committee Thursday, the sewer utility rate will increase 10 per cent or about $18 for the typical homeowner. The typical commercial user will see an increase of $432 a year.

City staff say the bulk of the increase is for infrastructure replacement, while the balance is for increased operating costs.

The committee also approved an increase in the water rate that will translate into an extra $25 on the average homeowner's water bill and an extra $600 on the average commercial bill.

Gudgeon, a restaurateur, said the cost of water is a huge expense for hotels and restaurants.

"From my understanding, for a locally owned hotel downtown their water bill is over $100,000 a year, so five per cent, seven per cent or eight per cent [increase] is a huge amount of money for an already struggling business," Gudgeon said.

John Sturdy, acting director of public works, said a lot of the capital costs are associated with maintaining and operating infrastructure that is 100 years old.

"A lot of the work that we're doing is just operating and maintaining a very old water system," Sturdy said.

He said that although they have been going up, Victoria's rates are consistent with or at the lower end of rates charged by municipalities across the country and in the region.

"We do have a significant infrastructure deficit with our system and the increases that we've been putting into the actual capital side of the program to increase the work we're trying to do isn't totally adequate to deal with infrastructure deficit," Sturdy said.

A good chunk of the rate increase - $7 on the residential bill - is needed to make up for revenue lost because people are using less water.

Coun. Geoff Young said councillors who sit on the regional water commission can influence that, if they choose.

"The board has made a decision, you have made a decision, that you want to ration water," Young said.

"You are telling people they have to go out and buy expensive timers to turn off their water at six o'clock in the morning on two days a week.

"You've succeeded in restricting water consumption at a time when we've got water coming out of our ears. And you have been driving up the price of water for years."

Mayor Dean Fortin urged water commission members not to "abandon the conservation ethic."

"Just because we have extra water is not a reason to waste it."

The water budget includes increased costs of operation, an increase in capital to address deferred maintenance and an eight per cent increase in the wholesale water rate.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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