Speaking up on Council’s unfair utility hike

To all Valemount residents:
I have thought long and hard about the utility increase discussed at the last council meetings on November 14th and 26th. While I took it all in on November 14th, I was ready to speak about this issue as I felt more informed during the November 26th council meeting. I was however interrupted and cut off by the mayor, who stated that utility increases were not on the agenda, even though they were on the agenda for 1st, 2nd and 3rd reading. I want the public to know how important this issue is and that all Valemount residents need to think about the impact of increasing utilities to us all over the next 8 years.
My primary concern is the financial burden and hardship to residents. There are plenty of Valemount families who are already struggling financially, with increased property taxes, increased hydro prices, increased food cost, etc. The fact that a small town with 800 residents has the need for a food bank shows the state of this town. Councillors have to consider the majority of its residents when making decisions, as well as the town’s economy. A majority of residents work in the hospitality industry, Valemount’s main industry, and quite frankly the lowest paying industry. You have to ask yourself why you chose to live in Valemount. Do we want to work to live or live to work? By 2027 we will pay more than double for utilities! How many weeks will we need to work each year to pay for them? What do we have to forgo in order to make the utilities payment? Let’s face it, once utilities go up, they will not decrease again. This should not sit well with Valemount residents.
Another aspect I wanted to address is that most businesses pay only 18% more in utilities than residential properties. Yet some businesses use exponentially more. Have village staff or councillors explained why commercial utility rates are not in line with their usage? Are residential property owners subsidizing business utilities?
My next concern is that Valemount’s council is planning on charging residents for future, unplanned expenditures as mentioned in the November 21st editorial of the Rocky Mountain Goat. If the Village cannot provide a detailed timeline with specific infrastructure repairs or replacements needed, then why increase our utilities? The Village’s answer is they want to create a reserve but really they are holding resident’s money ransom, while collecting interest off of our hard-earned money. Let’s not forget that the Village of Valemount already has a $2.88 million reserve, received through a grant, to be used whenever needed for infrastructure, collecting $40,000/year in interest. I’m curious to know why this grant, let alone the interest it generates, was not mentioned by councillors in any document or discussion in any way or form. It seems like an amount too large to ignore. Since the Village receives grants and emergency funds, don’t you think that only when all financial options have been exhausted, councillors should feel the need to increase our utilities?
Perhaps Village staff and councillors can inform us and show the public what kind of cost cutting measures they have taken before imposing these utility increases on us? For instance, is it in the best interest of Valemount residents that our information center is open all year around? Who is paying for the electricity, heat, wages for the additional staff working there, etc? Is it in the best interest of Valemount’s residents to have street lights on in a new subdivision, even though there are only a couple of occupied houses? Who is paying the electricity for these street lights? Who is paying for the maintenance of the planters on 5th Avenue? While beautiful, they have been a sore subject among residents and business owners. Would it be financially responsible to remove them and thereby reducing the village’s labour cost?
I have spoken to fellow Valemount residents and a forming consensus is that Valemount has become an unaffordable town, and this unjust and unfair utility increase towards residential property owners is proof. You have to ask yourself if councillors really have the best interest of its residents at heart. I encourage all residents of Valemount to come to the Council Meeting on December 10th for the utilities increases’ final reading. Perhaps if enough of us show up and speak up, we can make a difference and change Valemount councillors’ opinions.

Stefanie Han
Valemount, BC

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