By Korie Marshall

Residents and businesses in Valemount should see some big changes to their water, sewer and tax bills next year. If you have a home based business with employees or clients coming to your home, you may see an even bigger change.

The Village is updating nine bylaws, the oldest from 1964, relating to water service and fees. Without a metered system, the Village will continue to use a classification system for determining fees.

The old Municipal Act allowed a municipality to apply a parcel tax to be used to help meet costs of operating, maintaining and expanding utility services. However the new Local Government Act and Community Charter, enacted in 2003, made changes to how parcel taxes can be used. According to the new legislation, a parcel tax cannot be used for operating expenses; it must be for a specific stated capital expense (a specific piece of infrastructure); and it must have an end date.

With the expected repeal of the Water Parcel Tax bylaw, property owners will see that amount removed from their tax bill. But the Village says those funds have been used to provide the water service, so that amount must be collected from elsewhere. Council is considering charging 50 per cent of the usual utility bills to vacant property owners. That would mean an average saving of about $170 in taxes for vacant properties, and new utilities charges of $286.81 for vacant residential lots and $330.70 for vacant commercial lots.

Some businesses may see a change in their utilities rates as well because of the change in classifications. A response from the Village says several commercial businesses were incorrectly classified and were therefore paying far less than other similar businesses. It says those businesses will be reclassified as commercial, which is defined as a business selling goods or services, and includes the former classifications of offices, beauty parlor, BC Hydro, Telus and post office. That could be a big change for a business that was charged as one office, which would have meant a bill of $111.11 under the old sewer and water bylaws, plus the old water parcel tax amount on their tax bill. If passed, the changes will mean that business would now pay $661.40 per year for sewer and water.

Another big change may be seen by some home-based businesses. The proposed bylaws, scheduled for third reading by Council Dec. 10, will see certain home-based businesses – those with employees or with clients onsite – charged an additional 50 per cent of the commercial rates for water and sewer on top of their residential rates. That means some home-based businesses would pay $904.48 per year for water and sewer, with commercial properties paying $661.40 and residential properties paying $573.78.

Some businesses received letters from the Village about the intended changes, and discussion on social media showed residents and business owners were unclear on the rational of the changes, and felt the changes didn’t make sense, especially around the changes to home-based businesses.

Jen Applebaum, who runs a home-based business managing and maintaining rental properties, says it seems the Village is trying to make owners of commercially zoned business locations “feel” there is equity in the utility billing.

“It would make more sense for the village to re-assess their business licensing fees and how they approve home based businesses,” she says, “rather than just adding on a utility charge that makes no sense.” She says this is not a good way encourage businesses to expand or relocate, nor to deal with issues with home-based businesses, nor to try to raise funds for certain budgeting needs.

“I don’t mind paying more, but that is too much,” said Noreen Saul. She says her home, with her home-based business downstairs, doesn’t use any more water than a house with a larger family. She says she wouldn’t mind paying commercial rates, the same as businesses in commercial property, just as she wouldn’t mind paying the same for her business license, but it seems like gouging to ask her to pay that much more.

A written response from the Village says the additional fees for home-based businesses is not intended to be a penalty, or to try to encourage businesses to move into one of the commercial zones. It says it would be an example of a business cost, similar to how a power or phone account is more expensive for a business, even though neither may actually be used more. The statement from the Village says they recognize that a classification based system is inherently unfair, as there will always be categories that don’t perfectly fit. The current garbage collection system is unfair as well, which is part of the reason the Village is implementing a new fee structure for the garbage collection carts, due to arrive early next year. The response says the Village has benchmarked best practices in other communities, and has seen this practice of applying a commercial rate on top of a residential rate elsewhere.

The updated water and sewer bylaws, along with amendments to the new Fees and Charges bylaw, were scheduled to go to third reading on Dec. 10, the last Council meeting of the year. At least five business owners, including two with home-businesseses, have submitted written responses to Council arguing against the proposed changes to their rates.