By Laura Keil
Valemount Council unanimously agreed to hike utility fees again for Valemount residents at their Nov. 12th meeting.
Council approved an 8.5% increase on water and sewer fees and 3% increase for garbage. In raw numbers, the increase will mean residents will pay roughly $75 more and businesses roughly $85 more for garbage, sewer and water next year.
The increase is slightly less than the 9.5% originally plotted in a 9-year plan approved by the last Council that would bring rates from about $675 per single family home (2016 rates) to roughly $1500 by 2025. Village staff says the increase is needed to create reserves for infrastructure repairs and replacement, and without it, the Village would need to borrow money (and pay interest) in order to replace aging infrastructure.
Half a dozen residents voiced their opposition to this year’s increase during public comment period prior to the meeting.
Dee McEachern, President of the Valemount Seniors Housing Society, said the increase will mean the Society will pay $18,000 per year just for utilities, on top of other increasing costs.
Marion Farquharson, the Valemount Seniors Housing Society’s administrator, said the additional cost shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“This utility bill sounds like it is not much, but in fact it might just rock the boat the wrong way,” she said. She told Council the non-profit society that runs the affordable seniors housing had an increase in Hydro of 18% and in insurance of 40% and asked for special accommodation from Council.
Several residents questioned the need for a rate hike given that the Village received a $2.88M grant for infrastructure repair and replacement last spring.
When asked by Counc. Donnie MacLean about the status of the $2.88M, Village CAO Wayne Robinson said the grant won’t necessarily cover all future needs. There were no cost projections or any needs assessment in the Council agenda, however. Robinson said the capital asset study is not yet completed, a plan that would provide clearer projections for infrastructure replacement and repair.
Also on the agenda was a recommendation about billing frequency. Council declined to change utility billing to quarterly instead of yearly. The change would have cost the village money for time and postage, and to cover that staff said they would need to remove the early-payment discount. Council also voted to keep an 8% early-payment discount.
The Village has been putting away more money since 2017, after a report showed it was not putting enough money into reserve to cover future infrastructure replacement. At that time, Director of Finance Lori McNee noted that much of the Village’s water and sewer infrastructure is 40 years old and would soon need replacing. She said even if the Village applies for grants, the Village is still responsible for 25-33% of the cost, so a $1M sewage lift station requires a village contribution of $250,000 to $330,000. McNee said eight lift stations will need replacing in the next 20 years (costing up to $2.64 million in total, according to those estimates).
The 8.5% rate hike will bring the annual water cost for residents to $380.14/year and $456.19 for sewer in 2020 for a total of $836.33 plus the cost of garbage (roughly $110) for a grand total of approximately $946 a year. The changes to fees will be brought to Council at the November 26th Council meeting for 1st, 2nd and 3rd readings.