Water and wastewater bills could increase yet again in Prince Edward County.
After taking an ‘exhaustive’ look at what has been widely called a continued problem, members of the Water and Wastewater ad hoc committee are proposing a 5% increase while touting a plan to reduce connection charges in an effort to spark development, thus getting more users on the system to try and alleviate some of the burden associated with rising rates.
During 2017 budget deliberations it became abundantly clear that the County would have to strike a task force to look for out-of-the-box ideas to address rising rates, get more users on the system and tackle debt servicing as there are only 5,302 customers on the water system and 3,944 customers on wastewater. At the time the total water and wastewater debt sat at $22.4 million with $2.2 million going toward debt servicing and it was being paid back by connection rates.
After 14 extensive meetings, the ad hoc committee is suggesting a 5% increase to water rates for the next five years. Wastewater rates increase by the same amount until 2019. The monthly base charge for water will increase to $28.36 and $40.34 for wastewater effective July 1, 2017. It works out to a combined annual bill of $1,407. For the average household just on water the total annual bill will sit at $590 and for wastewater $817. Rates will not be retroactive to January 1, 2017. Connection rates will see an overall decrease of between $1,000 to $2,000 across the board. For example, rates for a single semi-detached dwelling will drop from $12,501 to $10,339.
On Thursday, the committee of the whole carried the 35 page report after Picton Councillor Treat Hull who also sits on the committee said the group took an exhaustive look at what is an ‘extensive problem.’
“There is no happy solution,” said Hull. “We need more homes or businesses to share the burden of an extremely costly water system. “Unfortunately the way we handled it in 2010 is proving that we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Up until now the County has been paying for the annual deficit through borrowing.”
Praising the decision to cut connection fees, Hull said growth is important to make the water and waste water system viable but also to achieve the County’s other objectives like a new hospital.
Looking out for the County’s most vulnerable, fellow Picton Councillor Lenny Epstein stated how affordability will have an impact on the market.
“If you want people to live here and we have the highest rates in the region, that will affect people’s ability to live here,” said Epstein.
Hull said everyone around the table was acutely sensitive to the impact the increase would have on the County’s most vulnerable who are already having difficulty paying their bills. He said future discussions around relief efforts are planned.
Mayor Robert Quaiff who wasn’t in attendance on Thursday as he is attending Association of Municipalities of Ontario meetings in Toronto watched via live streaming. Well versed on the struggles experienced by some County residents over continued rising costs of living, Mayor Quaiff noted this report is still in its initial stages and he looks to a future council meeting where the horseshoe will discuss relief for those who need it. He tipped his hat to the ad hoc committee for all of its hard work over the past six months. He said he’s heard from three developers so far on the plan to decrease connection fees and they are pleased with the announcement.
This matter will come to council at a later date for final approval.