There’s a big uproar going on over increases to SCRD utility rates. So first, an apology.
Thanks to COVID-19 it’s been a hairy six weeks at local government, and everybody thought somebody was going to write an informational piece to go out with utility bills, but nobody got it done.
(Just FYI, one of the staffing items in our 2020 budget is a senior manager of Communications, and we NEED that person badly. Directors spend so much time reading reports and making motions that we don’t always remember that the public doesn’t know what decisions we’ve made. Our senior staff put our decisions into action, but it’s not their job to tell the community what they’re doing in Understandable English, or to remind the board when we are falling behind with communications.)
So we messed up. And we’re hearing about it. Sorry!
Now, regarding utility rates…
You may remember the summer of 2018 when the SCRD implemented Stage 4 water restrictions for the third time in four years. People were incensed and water became the #1 local election issue in fall 2018. At big public meetings held in 2019, citizen after citizen stood up and said: “Fix our Chapman water supply problem now. We don’t care if it costs money, we can’t afford to run out of water.”
That’s exactly what the board has been working on. We are increasing the water supply as fast as we can, and that costs money.
Is water too expensive?
This year each Elphinstone household will pay $411 in user fees and a $277 parcel tax, for a total of $688. That works out to $1.88 per day for clean drinking water delivered to our homes 24/7 in almost unlimited quantity (AND supplying our fire hydrants). Frankly, I think that’s a great deal. A single bottle of water costs that much at the grocery store, and you can’t water your beans or power wash your siding with it.
Is now the right time for a rate increase?
No. Ten or twenty years ago was the right time. But the can was kicked down the road again and again because nobody wanted to raise taxes. And so here we are now facing costs that cannot be avoided, and for which money was not put aside.
What water projects are we working on?
- Church Road Well Field – Will reduce our water deficit by 50% when it goes online, hopefully in the summer of 2021.
- More Wells – Four new test wells will be drilled this year. Wells are our cheapest and fastest option for increasing our supply and reducing our reliance on a single source (Chapman Creek).
- Reservoirs – We are investigating options for additional storage of Chapman water. Most are not simple and none are cheap. Some are confidential right now due to negotiations with private landowners and other parties.
- Analyzing our Water Usage – Now that we have water meters in all the rural areas, we can collect data on our actual water usage. Our plans are based on assumptions; now we can determine whether those assumptions were good or not. This year’s budget includes the software to collect and analyze the data and the person hours to do the work.
- Sechelt Water Meters – In order to borrow the money to install water meters in Sechelt, we have to either go to public referendum or an alternate approval process. And both of those processes have been suspended by the province due to COVID-19. So that is on hold for now.
Other projects related to water include inspection of the dams at Chapman and Edwards Lakes. They were built in the 1970’s and if they don’t need significant work by now I will eat one of my hats. Well, maybe not, but I’ll definitely be astounded.
I still feel, as I’ve said many times before, that we need to prioritize essential services over optional extras in our budget process. But I have discovered that hockey is really the Canadian religion, because even the suggestion of reducing funding for ice rinks gets people up in arms. However, COVID-19 has forced us to take a closer look at which of our services are truly essential, and I hope we will take that into consideration next year.
Finally, for anyone who missed it, here’s my Five Horsemen of the Property Tax Apocalypse presentation for the Elphinstone Community Association explaining the financial squeeze on local government.