For the second year in a row, utility rates are set to increase by double digits for Squamish residents.
The members of Squamish Council met on Tuesday (March 13) and voted to bump the cost of water and sewer services by 10 per cent for the year ahead. Joanne Greenlees, the District of Squamish (DOS) General Manager of Financial Services, told the members of council that their vote wasn't the final vote on the issue because the vote that really counts as the final version of the budget will ultimately lock the rate in.
Last year, council increased the water and sewer fees by 15 per cent as part of a five-year strategy to prepare for a major infrastructure replacement initiative launched last year.
Homeowners were charged $604.01 for water and sewer services in 2011 and in 2012 that amount will jump to $664.42, an increase of $60.40 per household.
The cost per household in 2006 for water and sewer services was $350.26. The increase in fees over the 12 years amounts to an increase of 53 per cent.
Jenni Chauncey, a DOS infrastructure engineer, told the members of council that she calculated the water cost per resident at about $12 a month and called it a fair price compared to fees charged for electricity, gas and mobile phone services.
"$12 a month for clean water is a pretty good deal in my mind," said Chauncey.
In February of last year, Squamish Council was told that water and sewer rates needed to increase by 65 per cent over five years to begin to meet the future infrastructure replacement and renewal required in Squamish. Brian Barnett, the General Manager of Engineering and Parks, presented council a report last year from the engineering firm Kerr Wood Leidal and in that report the company found that many of the major components in the water system will come of age by 2040.
Barnett encouraged council last year to prepare now for that inevitable future. Mayor Rob Kirkham said on Tuesday that it is important for the current council to stick with the plan implemented last year to incrementally increase the fee collection over a few years.
Councillor Patty Heintzman asked the DOS staff members if there was an advantage to going with a higher percentage increase this year.
Greenlees said increasing the rate would allow the district to reduce its overall borrowing in 2012 or increase the value of reserve funds. She also noted that the plan established last year called for a 15 per cent increase next year followed by 10 per cent increases in 2014 and 2015.
The idea of increasing the rate hike greater than 10 per cent wasn't discussed any further. The budget process for the DOS is still in its early stage. Further budget discussions are scheduled between now and May 15, the deadline set by the provincial government to have the annual budget finalized.