Pemberton council has rescinded all readings of the village's Water Termination Bylaw, indicating that an agreement with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District over the ongoing Pemberton North Water Service (PNWS) dispute is near.
During its regular meeting Tuesday, July 22, council also adjusted the water rates for in-boundary, non-metered connections, effective in 2015, in anticipation of a resolution on the PNWS.
Chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland said he was optimistic that "in the next week or so" an announcement of an agreement could be made.
"The negotiations have seen a lot of positive progress, so we feel we're quite close, and this is why we're doing the housekeeping items... so we can see it through to the finish line," said Sailland.
SLRD Area C director Susie Gimse, in an email to Pique, agreed that negotiations over the PNWS were reaching an end point.
"The negotiations between the parties have proven productive, and I believe the bylaw amendments are being made to facilitate the finalization of the settlement," said Gimse.
If an agreement is reached, it would end a longstanding dispute between the village and regional district regarding the cost of the service. The village supplies water in bulk to about 150 connections on the PNWS, mostly located in Area C, and sends the bill to the SLRD.
Pemberton began charging double the rate in 2007, while the SLRD has continued to pay the previous rate since, in the absence of a formal agreement over the rate. That has led to what the village considers an outstanding balance of more than $516,000, and more than $970,000 after interest and penalties.
The village initiated the Water Termination Bylaw in 2012 — which would have granted the authority to end water supply to the PNWS 12 months after adoption — in an attempt to spur negotiations. However, that bylaw never did proceed beyond third reading.
As well, the new water rates established on Tuesday for 2015 and beyond brings per-user costs back on the schedule recommended by Kerr Wood Leidal in its review of Pemberton water rates. Council had previously adopted a rate structure that would see outside-boundary users "pay significantly more than their fair share." The rate schedule adopted Tuesday reverts to a more equitable model.
As the village looks to build reserves to maintain its water system, in-boundary users can expect a jump in their water bills for next year, followed by a slight reduction in 2016, then smaller, consistent raises through 2019.
The single-family unit flat rate for 2015 will be $495.84, up by more than $115 over 2014, and $481.75 in 2016.
VILLAGE REMUNERATION UP IN 2013
The village paid its staff $100,000 more last year compared to 2012, according to the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report released earlier this month.
The report indicated total payments of $1.51 million, up from $1.41 million in 2012. Sailland attributed the difference to some new positions, and turnover in the fire department, which also has its stipends-per-call for volunteer firefighters counted as part of the total.
The number of village employees earning more than $75,000 also rose, going from seven to eight, while the village also had two employees making over $100,000 last year compared to one in 2012. Sailland remained the top earner at $122,038, while manager of development services Caroline Lamont grossed $101,501.
Sailland said that's on par with communities of similar scale, adding that it's vital to consider the context for each community — including cost of living, housing and neighbouring municipalities — when looking at their salary strategy.
"For some communities, they're happy with high turnover in certain areas," he said. "In other communities such as our own, we keep a very small, high-functioning group that enters into a lot of different areas.
"You'll pay a little more to have that within each individual member, but we'll also keep them longer."
Despite small raises in 2013, the village paid less to council members overall due to former mayor Jordan Sturdy's unpaid leave of absence last summer. Council expenses were also down, from $14,739 in 2012 to $10,275 last year.
On another staffing matter, Sailland said Pemberton has "tentatively reached an agreement" with CUPE 2010 members employed by the village. The agreement was awaiting ratification, but Sailland said he expected an announcement of a new contract would come before the end of the week.