Municipal staff suggest water and wastewater rate increase for new year

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Prince Edward County Council received a report from Amanda Carter, Director of Finance, regarding a change to water and wastewater rates that would begin January 1, 2022. Council passed a motion to accept the recommendations of staff, with an amendment brought forth by Councillor Kate MacNaughton asking staff to investigate a water and wastewater relief program and funding source.

In the report, staff recommended that council adopt a scenario (scenario 1a) that included full cost recovery of capital costs to the year 2030 and had an increased consumption charge for use in the summer season. The new rates are based upon a study conducted by Andrew Grunda, Principal of Watson and Associates Economists Ltd.

A by-law to officially adopt the new water and wastewater rates as of January 1, 2022 will be brought forward to the December 14, 2021 council meeting.

As per the report in question, the study conducted by Grunda had two objectives: 1) To have full cost recovery of future capital costs by the year 2030 and 2) Have tourism pay for impacts on the water and wastewater systems.

On September 28, 2021, the municipality launched a Have Your Say survey dedicated to the changing water and wastewater rates. 114 residents and ratepayers responded.

103 of respondents were homeowners or renters, while 11 were both homeowners and business owners.

The majority of respondents were from either Wellington or Picton. According to survey results, respondents preferred Scenario 2, while 59 supported seasonal water/wastewater rates and 53 did not while 2 declined to answer.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

As per the report, respondents had the following suggestions with regards to water and wastewater rates:

  • Use property taxes to help offset large increases to the system users
  • Lobby the provincial and federal governments for grants
  • Charge tourism sector more and use the revenues to offset rate increases
  • Model that has developers paying more
  • Employ a road toll and use the toll revenues to fund water/wastewater services and infrastructure
  • Utilize long term debt for all capital infrastructure for water/wastewater so that the impact is mitigated to the rate payers

Respondents suggested the following alternative funding plans the county could consider:

  • Use property taxes to help offset large increases to the system users
  • Lobby the provincial and federal governments for grants
  • Charge tourism sector more and use the revenues to offset rate increases
  • Model that has developers paying more
  • Employ a road toll and use the toll revenues to fund water/wastewater services and infrastructure
  • Utilize long term debt for all capital infrastructure for water/wastewater so that the impact is mitigated to the rate payers

Speaking to council about the rate change was Roxanne MacKenzie, a senior on a fixed income who is concerned about the rising water and waste water rates and subsequent pressure that will place on an increasingly high cost of living.

MacKenzie explained she is moving to Picton from the suburbs full-time next fall, but is somewhat hesitant to do so due to the higher cost of living associated with living here.

“My house tax will double and I’ll be paying about 150 per month for water,” said MacKenzie. “I know people who conserve water by saving grey water and limiting showers using rain barrels and still their water bill is high. I know most of you are on well water and do not have to worry about conserving water quite so much.”

MacKenzie explained that-like many seniors-her pension is small, comparable to the compensation given to councillors.

“I have been talking to Amanda Carter who makes more than $150,000 per year, as do Peter Moyer, Don Canza and Marcia Wallace. I’m sure they earn their money, but it may be hard for them to understand someone with a small pension having to deal with these times of increasing costs on all sides,” MacKenzie suggested.

She noted the county seems to be “pricing itself out of its citizens” many of whom are moving to less expensive regions, or at least, thinking of doing so.

“An actuary who lives in the area recently found that Prince Edward County had combined water/wastewater rates that are in the top two percent among all 10 provinces,” added MacKenzie.

While commenting that she resents the sentiment that a rise in water and waste water costs can’t be helped, she does not understand why it is necessary, citing an over $21 million loan given to the water and waste water department in 2021.

Mackenzie also inquired as to whether or not a reduced rate for low income earners and seniors could be considered, suggesting perhaps a water works commission, facilitated by users and rate payers might be a good idea.

“If all else fails, if you cannot hold the line on increases, at least implement scenario 2, full funding by 2034, which was one option by the costly Watson and associates study. At least we would have 13 years to try and find some cost-efficient solutions,” Mackenzie suggested.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton asked staff about the feasibility of a relief program.

“I would like to return to the idea about providing some sort of relief program inherent in whatever approach we take, the feasibility of that, what staff did look at and if there is any opportunity to explore that at this time,” she stated.

Amanda Carter, Director of Finance, replied that while a relief program was considered, it was decided against due to the effect it would have on the water and wastewater rates.

“We did consider a relief program but the effect on the rates is they would have increased to afford that kind of cost,” explained Carter. “It’s suggested that kind of relief program be tax supported.”

CAO Marcia Wallace replied that a relief program can be further investigated but that staff will need more direction from council in order to do so.

“It is completely doable to create a grant like program. The issue is it is unfunded… right now it would have to be taken from the tax base in order to support it and there is not room in our current operating budget to absorb that. It would either require a tax increase or giving up something else to make room for this,” stated Wallace. “We will need some specific direction today to know what to bring forward at budget.”

While the recommendations brought forth by staff were passed, MacNaughton’s motion to investigate a relief program and funding source will be open ended for staff to decide the best time to bring that forward.