Edward Lepp wants to know why the basic water rate at his strata in Mill Bay is increasing by 31 per cent this year.
Lepp said he has learned from the Mill Bay Waterworks District website that he will have to pay $75.79 every two months in 2021 for his basic water rates, up from the $57.55 he was paying, and will have to pay an additional 10 per cent for usage above the initial allotment.
Also, Lepp said his water parcel tax has increased 10 per cent, again, in 2021 as well, to $218.68.
“Most of the residents here don’t know about the increase to their water rates yet, and will be shocked when they get their first bill of the year in February,” he said.
“I calculate that the average home in Mill Bay will see an increase in water rates of about $300 a year for just basic water. Many people are not working because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are on fixed incomes and they will not be pleased with these skyrocketing rates.”
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Lepp said he has had an issue with the billing practices of Mill Bay Waterworks before, and the dispute ended up being investigated by B.C.’s Office of the Ombudsperson, who agreed with him.
“The [Office of the Ombudsperson] told the board at Mill Bay Waterworks in 2019 that they have to establish a whole new set of classifications for billing purposes,” he said.
Kim Vanderkooy, district administrator at Mill Bay Waterworks, said the rates were determined for 2021 after the waterworks conducted a thorough and detailed investigation into the financial administration of its water rates.
She said it’s unfortunate that improvement districts like Mill Bay Waterworks receive no financial support from other levels of government.
“If the costs of operation go up, the extra costs must come from our water users,” Vanderkooy said.
“All the increased costs of construction, contracts and other expenses come straight down the pike to us, and we have had to increase our water rates substantially in 2021 as a result.”
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Vanderkooy said that as part of the investigation, it had to be determined if Mill Bay Waterworks should implement the increased rates slowly and incrementally over a period of years, or make one big increase in one year.
“It was decided that operational costs would continue to go up every year anyway, so the district decided to have a significant increase in rates in 2021 so that we can have much smaller increases in future years,” she said.
“We have compared our water rates to other jurisdictions, and we’re still on the lower end of the cost of a cubic metre of water.”
As for the increase in the parcel tax, Vanderkooy said it is related to the water system’s aging infrastructure.
She said the maintenance of the infrastructure, with some of it in place since 1962 and requiring upgrades and/or replacement, is separate from the revenue raised by water rates that are used to pay for operating costs.
“It’s important that people know that we don’t operate like a business and we’re not here to make a profit,” Vanderkooy said.
“We try our best to balance everything. If we end up with a financial surplus, it’s put towards a renewal fund for our infrastructure.”