By Andru McCracken
Council’s decision to forge ahead with an unpopular utility increase has halted for the time being. Councilor Hollie Blanchette pressed pause on third reading asking for time to reassess the situation and get a better sense of the amount of money council needs to raise to maintain water and sewer facilities in Valemount. Ultimately council voted to repeal third reading of Bylaw No. 813, 2019 which is a fees and charges amendment.
The discussions came after Blanchette asked to hold a committee of the whole to discuss the issue during last Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I’ve heard a lot of people come and talk to me,” said Blanchette. “It’s a concern for all of us. Sometimes what was really good four years ago and was working may not work now.”
She asked to keep things the way they are until January.
“Nobody wants to have a raise of their utility rates, can we have a discussion about it?”
She brought up some concerns that hadn’t been taken into account, for instance, she said that the discount provided for paying the utilities up front works well for people with money in their bank, not people who don’t have the money to pay.
Councilor Peter Pearson said the rationale for the raises need to be understood by the community at large.
“Without seeing the background that we have (as councilors) it’s a hard one to follow,” said Pearson. “An educational program makes it easier.”
Councilor Sheri Gee proposed a targeted discount, something that hadn’t been discussed.
“I think that would be a lot more fair to our residents that struggle harder to pay their utilities,” she said.
Instead of raising the rates, council backed down following Blanchette’s lead.
She moved to repeal third reading.
“I feel like everybody is raising limits, sometimes we have to take a step and reassess we’re doing the right thing for everybody. We’re having people that are really struggling,” she said after the discussion. “Let’s drop the raise to four or five percent and really look at the books.”
“I would like to move that we drop the utility rates to 5% and reassess in January,” she said.
Torgerson made a friendly amendment to add repealing the third bylaw of the rates and fees bylaw.
The motion passed unanimously, public pressure may have played a role. At the previous meeting council had passed first, second and third readings of the bylaw.
What was on the table was an 8.5% increase on water and sewer fees and 3% increase for garbage. In raw numbers, the increase would have meant residents would pay roughly $75 more and businesses roughly $85 more for garbage, sewer and water next year.
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.