There are very few water meters left to be installed here in Lake Cowichan, and on the Sept. 4, town staff gave their recommendations to mayor and council for rates to be charged beginning in 2013.
Providing a rate program that allows for over three times the water consumption than that of the national average, council decided that they would vote in favour of the first of two options presented to them by town staff which would see residential property owners in Lake Cowichan paying a base rate of $290 for up to 400 cubic meters of water annually, and $1.30 per cubic meter for those who consume more than 400 cubic meters. Commercial users would pay a base rate of $170 for up to 235 cubic meters, and the outside user rate would sit at $565.
Option two, not favoured by the table, would see residents paying a base rate of $390 for up to 400 cubic meters, commercial users paying $270 for 235 cubic meters, and the outsider user rate staying the same as that of option one.
Currently residents pay a flat rate of $306 annually.
Ronnie Gill, director of finance for the Town of Lake Cowichan, states in her report that “all costs of operating the water system must come from the users. To accomplish this, a rate structure that follows the principals of full cost recovery should be adopted.”
Gill states that there are several reasons why full cost pricing is recommended.
“Full cost pricing is the fairest way of charging for water. The price tells the customer what it costs to deliver the water to a house or place of business. Second it provides an incentive to conserve. Finally, water income will cover expenses plus provide extra funds for emergencies and small additions or replacements of the system.”
The pricing structure is broken down into two parts.
“The first part, the base rate, is a charge per customer to recover fixed expenses. This charge guarantees enough revenue to meet the utilities basic costs during periods of low water sales due to drought or other reasons,” said Gill. “The second part, called the unit rate, is a charge per unit of water sold to cover the cost of operation, maintenance, and administration.”
Both council and Gill have assumed that the 10 per cent discount to residents that pay by the last day in February of each year will stay in place. This would mean a savings of approximately $30 to the consumer.
“Many residents, including seniors, take advantage of that discount,” said Gill.
The table also discussed the need to look at semi annual billing, as the reason at the heart of the program is about water conservation and reducing the carbon footprint of the town by enabling Public Works to identify problems and leaks within the town’s water system.
“I would like to see some sort of safety net within the billing structure in case of breakage, and if the person deals with the breakage that there is some sort of relief process,” said Coun. Tim McGonigle.
He is concerned for those residents who have a break or leak in their system that is not identified until they receive their bill.
“Even a drip rate is about 100 gallons a day,” said McGonigle.
He added that the regional district does have a one time relief in place for residents who experience a break or leak in their water lines, and something similar could be adopted by the town.
“That will have to be addressed through the bylaw in terms of making an allowance for that,” said chief administrative officer, Joseph Fernandez. “But I also think that the rate structure should be such that we are able to allocate some of those funds to that very issue that we are talking about.”
“I don’t have much experience with the involvement of Public Works in reading meters and notifying the public about their consumption, but I forsee that we should be reading meters once a month,” said Nagi Rizk. “And within our readings, staff can look into the overage or the consumption and notify the public sooner.”
At the planned November public meeting, council will open this subject, and that of the proposed water parcel tax of $100, to public concerns or suggestions.
The water parcel tax is a separate program from the water metering and is to help pay for a VIHA mandated secondary water source to be put in place by 2015.
The date for the meeting has not yet been confirmed, but Coun. McGonigle expects that it will be at the next Public Works Committee meeting on Oct. 2.
At the Sept. 4 meeting, Rizk reported that the road improvements are on schedule, and that he is ready for the province to begin paving, as of Friday, Aug. 31.
He added that he can’t be certain about exactly where the project is at budget wise because items have been added and removed, but he states that this is the nature of the contract.
No date has been set for the paving of South Shore Road, but Rizk has been in touch with Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and has said he will keep council informed.