Residents of the District of Squamish will notice a few fee increases this year when they pay property taxes, which council said Tuesday was necessary to reflect the true cost of providing those services.
Council approved the first three readings for increases to water, sewer and solid waste rates, which will apply to 2010.
Water rates will increase by 2.5 per cent, which means the average dwelling or apartment in Squamish will pay $219.38 this year, plus $175.53 if they have a secondary suite. Higher rates will also be applied to business, commercial and industrial users, as well as to businesses paying a metered rate for water.
Sewer rates will increase by a more modest one per cent, which brings the bill for an average single family dwelling to $305.85 per year.
Councillor Paul Lalli explained that the higher fees take into account the costs of those systems, as well as setting aside some money for future projects to expand both water and sewage systems in response to the continued growth of the community.
The biggest increase percentage-wise is with solid waste management fees, with the bill going up to $120 in 2010 from $100 in 2009.
Mayor Greg Gardner acknowledged that the increase was significant but said it was a necessary step to reflect the real cost of providing solid waste collection and landfill services.
"The reason is that staff have reviewed the true cost to provide this service and believe the actual costs are really in the neighbourhood of $140 per household and recommended this increase as a step in that direction," he said. "We would like to have true accountability for this fee... so we can be transparent to the public as to what money we're collecting and what it's being spent on."
The fee includes the expected costs associated with managing the landfill in the future, including planned upgrades and the eventual closure of the landfill.
As well, Squamish recently conducted a review of its solid waste management processes and one of the recommendations in that report was to create a solid waste utility in Squamish that is managed as a separate entity within the municipality. It would also manage finances separately.
"We want to clarify all these issues and make sure there's no overlap between the regular operating budget and the solid waste services we provide, but that is the next step of this," said Gardner.
Councillor Rob Kirkham added that there are no plans yet to raise solid waste fees to the full $140, and that the decision wouldn't be made until next year.
Squamish will not pay for voluntary consultation
The District of Squamish clarified its policy regarding consultation fees that are being requested by First Nations and other third parties when consulting with the province on land use plans.
The policy was requested by the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee as part of an effort to create a provincial guide for engaging First Nations in rural development. If participation is considered voluntary then the District of Squamish will not pay any fees and will "decline any invoices or requests for compensation where the District undertakes a consultation process where participation by those consulted is voluntary."
Under B.C. law First Nations must be consulted regarding any project or development that concerns their traditional territories, but in many cases their participation is considered voluntary.
Squamish talks service costs with regional district
The growth of communities to the north and south of the District of Squamish has prompted discussions over what contribution those communities should make towards services like the library, sports fields, recreation centres and other facilities within the district.
On Tuesday, council approved a recommendation to council that staff enter discussions with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District regarding the possibility of residents of Porteau Cove, Furry Creek and Britannia Beach paying fees for the use of playing fields, recreation programming, the aquatic centre, the ice arena, the library and the recreation centre, as well as the administration of these facilities.
"Those communities depend on our services, so we need to address that," said Councillor Paul Lalli. "These services are being consumed by people outside of the community, non-taxpayers, and there needs to be an equitable cost sharing for those services."