My position on labour costs for water systems

Regional district water-utility costs have come up for discussion during this election campaign. It’s an important issue and I’ll state my position as clearly as possible.

• I do not support a raise in taxes that would shift labour costs of maintenance for TNRD water systems back to the general taxpayer.

• I do support a measured approach to recovery of labour-maintenance costs of small water systems.

My position on this is consistent with current board policy and intent.

When I talk about maintenance costs I don’t mean the amount of water that people consume, rather the cost of staff time and expertise to maintain water systems.

Let me put it into some historical context.

When the TNRD was first asked back at the turn of the new millennium to rescue a number of water systems that would not otherwise be sustainable, total staff costs to maintain them were, I’m told, around $100,000.

Those costs were assigned to a line item called Electoral Area Administration, funded as a common cost. Several years later (after I left the board), four other water systems were acquired for the usual $1 consideration.

Adding the new systems ballooned the EA Administration costs to the point the board decided to move toward a user-pay model. However, the board was of the view that the shift should be done gradually rather than all at once, and that if a system such as the 16-user Evergreen was put 100 per cent on user-pay for labour costs — that is, if those costs were transferred entirely onto water tolls — the cost to each user would jump by thousands of dollars a year.

So, a $100 cap was placed on their monthly water utility fees. Users also pay a parcel tax on indirect labour costs. The result of this policy is a gradually reducing draw on the EA Administration line to $236,000 next year.

This, I’m informed by the TNRD finance department, equates to about $9.30 on an average annual tax bill that includes non-users.

The transition to the hybrid user-pay model is to be completed next year. In other words, the water systems that have had their tolls increased will reach full recovery while those under the cap policy will be paying the maximum.

As time goes on, conditions change, materials and labour costs increase, and the ability of a tiny water system to self-sustain may improve. And it may be possible and necessary to increase the recovery from the small systems with the cap — if elected, I’ll certainly be open to a review and, in fact, would encourage regular review to ensure policy that is appropriate to current conditions.

I believe the TNRD has taken an appropriate phased response to the matter of utility-cost recovery, rather than the alternative of a blanket all-at-once policy that would have given no consideration to sticker shock or the ability of those living in tiny communities to pay.

A key plank in my platform is prudent, participatory budgeting and tax control. This includes water systems.

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