Board approves recommendation on changes to utility rates

blackpinespumphouseRural residents who receive water or sewer services in their communities will face changes to their rates in the new year — some will see increases, some will save.

The TNRD board of directors voted today (Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016) to accept a recommendation from the Utility Systems Committee that the changes be implemented next year.

Earlier, I voted against the recommendation at the committee stage because I wanted to see more of the options that were considered by staff, but after studying the only two options presented, I concluded the one adopted by the committee and recommended to the board was the better of the two.

However, I argued today (unsuccessfully) that the process for approval should be altered so that affected communities were consulted before the recommendation was voted on by the board, instead of simply being informed of a done deal.

By simply reversing the order, the process would not have been delayed, but it would have been in keeping with the TNRD’s five-level communications policy.

The lowest level of engagement under that policy is the one the board chose today. I suggested we at least go to the second level, which is to get public feedback and to consider that feedback as the decision is made.

Director Ken Christian argued against it because he didn’t want to see the process delayed. Director Ronaye Elliott argued against it because a lot of time has been spent by staff and the committee on the recommendation. Director Peter Milobar argued against it because nobody likes to see their taxes increased and that’s all consultation would tell us.

I certainly disagree with those arguments, as I’d already stated, and re-stated, that consultation wouldn’t delay the process at all, and my motion to postpone did not propose to leave the status quo. When we ask taxpayers for their opinions, though, they generally have some pretty good ideas.

I always accept board decisions even when I’m on the losing side but I would like to have seen the board — most of which saw the report upon which the recommendation was based for the first time today — give more consideration to a different approach.

Alas, there was almost no support on the board for my view of the world today. However, the resolution approving the recommendation must still be put into bylaw form before it comes back to the board for formal approval so, theoretically at least, opinions gathered at the planning information meetings can be considered at that stage.

The changes are to come into effect next year.

As I did in my previous post on this issue, I highly recommend taking a look at the full report, as it contains a lot of important information about the funding of utilities, and outlines the expected effect of the changes on individual systems.

Meantime, here’s the recommendation that was approved today:

As recommended by the Utilities Systems Committee, THAT parcel taxes currently charged to all active parcels within each utility service area (water and sewer) to fund “Other Indirect Costs” be increased to $15 per parcel per month, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

AND THAT where parcel taxes charged to all active parcels within each utility service area exceed actual “Other Indirect Costs” incurred in any given year be transferred into a Utilities Capital Reserve fund;
AND THAT utility user fee rates in each utility service be increased sufficient to fund expected direct cost increases over the five year period from 2017 to 2021 as detailed in Table 4 (Option 2), effective January 1st of each year.

AND FURTHER THAT the current user fee cap of $100 per month maximum be indexed for inflation and increased to $125 per month, effective January 1, 2017.

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