By Korie Marshall, Editor

Nothing’s ever really free, but I know that many people will try to get the best deal or best price they can. And if getting a few people together to write some letters is all it takes to get water and sewer charges reversed or removed from vacant properties, I don’t blame people for trying. I don’t agree, but I don’t blame them for trying.

There are about 10 letters on Valemount’s June 23rd Council agenda expressing complaints, among other things, about the water and sewer charges on vacant properties. Some of the letters refer to multiple properties owned by the same people or company. Most of them see the charges as unfair, since the properties don’t use water or sewer.

If you own a car, gas is not the only cost of ownership. Not only do you have to buy the car, you have to maintain it, and do repairs, which often means replacing parts that wear out, like your tires, or your fuel pump or filler tubes for your gas tank. If the car gets to a point where you don’t use it, or you think the repairs are costing too much, or you’ve got a new car, you can let it sit in your yard, taking up space, or sell it to someone who might want to do the repairs, or you can just sell it for parts or scrap metal.

It’s not a perfect comparison, but when you buy a piece of land within a municipality that offers utility services, there is a cost to maintain the value of your property – the cost of maintaining that infrastructure, whether or not you are currently connected to it. I don’t think it is fair for the owners of vacant properties to think that the rest of us should be burdened with the cost of maintenance that gives value to their property.

But there are some other interesting complaints and comments mixed in the letters. For example, the owner of two apartment buildings says they are both at about 50 per cent occupancy, and he used to get a discount on utilities when the units weren’t occupied. I wonder why his buildings are only 50 per cent occupied, when we have a rental housing shortage on our hands. And I wonder if getting a break on utilities in the past meant that property owners didn’t have an incentive to see their properties used. It’s like leaving a perfectly good car in your yard rather than selling it to someone who needs it and is willing to do the work.

A couple who owns five vacant commercial properties on 5th Avenue say they already pay enough in taxes, but think that water metering would be a fair way to charge for water and sewer in the Village. I agree about the metering, though I wonder if they realize that there would likely still be a base rate charged to all properties, regardless of usage. And again, it seems like the taxes and charges on these properties haven’t been high enough to either encourage these people to put something on their property or to sell it to someone who wants to. What exactly are they waiting for?

And within these letters, there’s also a complaint from the company that owns the former Fields building. The president of the company thinks there shouldn’t be water, sewer or garbage charges on the former Fields building (which he says hasn’t been used for five years), or on their vacant property next door. Again, it seems this company has no incentive to fill that building. I don’t see why charges of about $300 a year for a vacant property or $800 for an empty building should be that big of a deal to them.

We are trying to build a community here, and we need services, infrastructure, places to live and places to do business. People are obviously banking on our future by investing in vacant property or leaving a building empty. Why shouldn’t they have to pay for some of the infrastructure and services to help maintain this community?