Nelson city council plans to raise residential water rates for 2016 by three per cent and sewer rates by two per cent. The new rates for a single family home, compared with past years, are shown in the box below.
The proposed 2016 rates passed third reading at council’s meeting on Monday and have yet to be finally approved at a future meeting.
2016 net change
In 2005, council made a plan for annual rate increases over a 25-year period to pay the cost of gradually replacing its aging and deteriorating pipes. The rates at the time weren’t high enough to pay for massive upgrades that were urgently needed. Since then, Nelson residents have become accustomed to seeing streets being dug up in a different part of the city every summer, including on Hall St. this past summer where the water and sewer upgrade was done simultaneously with new street construction. The rate increases in 2007 and 2008 amounted to about 50 per cent and then were reduced to about nine per cent for a few years after that.
“Nelson is one of the few communities across Canada where water and sewer rates are sufficient to fund both projected capital upgrades and build reserves,” state the materials presented to council by management staff.
The documents also state that the city has been replacing an average of 1.8 km of water line per year at an average cost of $525 per metre since 2009, and 2.5 km per year of sewer line at an average cost of $206 per metre since 2010.
At Monday’s meeting council also discussed the problem of how much to charge businesses and institutions for water and sewer. The tax increases described in the chart are about water and sewer for homes, not businesses and institutions, which are billed according to the number of sinks and toilets, or in the case of restaurants, by number of seats.
But the city’s chief financial officer, Colin McClure, says not only does the city not know how much water businesses and institutions use, but neither does it know how much the average household uses. So the city is doing some experimental metering of both.
In 2014 the city installed meters in some Nelson businesses and institutions and and has been metering a number of residential zones in the city as well as a few individual houses to collect information on usage. Along with the rate increases for 2016 goes a plan to spend an additional $150,000 on continuing and expanding this data collection on water usage.
Are the rates charged to businesses appropriate, in relation to residential rates? McClure says he doesn’t know.
“We don’t have enough of a cross section yet,” he told the Star. “We need to know how much water the commercial operations are using and we can’t do it on the limited information we have.”
Water usage in Nelson made the news this year on another front, namely the question of the adequacy of Nelson’s overall water supply during drought years.
The materials presented to council on Monday, including detailed spreadsheets indicating water and sewer revenue and expenditures projected to 2030, and including rates charged currently to several different categories of businesses, are attached below.