By Cole Parkinson
As part of budget discussion for the Municipal District of Taber, several utility fees were proposed to be increased for 2020.
During council’s regular meeting on Nov. 26, councillors went over the recommended changes to Bylaw 1957. The water department proposed a 2020 budget that includes a net operating deficit reduced from $791,927 in 2019 to $714,455 in 2020.
With this deficit, a recommendation was put forward to increase water and sewer utility fees by 10 per cent each year over the next five years to reach full cost recovery for water costs by 2025.
“If we stay with a two per cent or five per cent increase, we’ll just be covering for the amount we are paying for the water, not any of our other costs,” said Bryan Badura, director of corporate services.
The proposed increase reduces the reliance on property tax dollars to fund water and sewer costs and begins to see full cost recovery of water expenditures.
Monthly flat rate water charge is proposed to increase to $60.50 ($5.50 increase), overage above 22.7 cubic meters is $2.05 ($0.18 increase), bulk water per cubic metre is $2.20 ($0.20 increase), monthly flat-rate sewer charge is $18.60 ($1.70 increase), parks and schools monthly flat rate water $220 ($20 increase), parks and schools monthly flat rate sewer $55.80 ($5.10 increase) and hamlet grade collection charges is $11 ($1 increase). With these changes, it would result in an additional $41,547 in budgeted revenue from the increase proposed.
“Just wondering, what it would look like if we kept the monthly rate the same and reduced the amount of water they are allowed each month? Right now, they are allotted almost 6,000 gallons and that is a lot of water for a household. That way they are paying for the water they are using,” stated Coun. Leavitt Howg.
The suggestion made by Coun. Howg was one administration had looked at before and would likely be a discussion point for the future.
“That is a very good comment and I have been thinking about that, too, lowering that amount,” replied Badura. “What we find in the wintertime is everyone is under that. Some use two cubes, some are five cubes which is significantly under, especially with some houses with small families. In the summer, we see very large overages. When people start watering their grass and doing things like that. Every one cubic metre, according to our overage price, is currently $1.07 and we are looking to move that to $2.05. If we do reduce those overages there is potentially $2 for every cubic metre in additional revenue. However, it is hard to quantify this amount because like I said, you get into the winter months and use five cubes.”
It was also pointed out that 22.7 cubic meters of water is much more than most households would use, especially in situations where there was a small number of people living in the residence.
“For me, 6,000 gallons for the month doesn’t happen at my place. There’s only two of us so that is a lot of water,” added Reeve Merrill Harris.
As for the reason for the increases to the bylaw fees, it was explained by administration that they were needed due to additional costs for the municipality coming down over the next handful of years.
“The reason we have proposed these increases is because we are seeing the five per cent increase from the water commissions and that is projected to continue over the next four years. As well as looking at our own internal, every hamlet runs at a loss,” said Badura. “With our cost structure, it is all being subsidized by taxes.”
Another way administration is proposing to cut down on costs is eliminating personnel positions through attrition. While there is no timeline on when these positions will be dwindled down, cost savings are still expected through other means.
“In the budget, we have included provisions within the water department that is combined with hamlet services to not replace positions within the hamlet’s services department. Through attrition, when someone leaves the organization within the water department, we will just fill it with current staff until we are in a situation with no more hamlet foremen. Right now we allocated about 50 per cent of water operator wages to water operations in the hamlets. When we complete the transition, which could take a year or two years through attrition, we would allocate 20 per cent of the wages to the cost of water. With these 10 per cent increases in utility as well as cutting costs out of the budget, we project we will come a lot closer in the future to breaking even, at least, in water services,” explained Badura.
While council was in agreement with Coun. Howg’s suggestion, they also realized it would be hard to implement for the coming year.
“I think for right now, have a fixed cost so we aren’t losing money on our plants,” said Coun. Brian Brewin. “We’ve come a long way, I believe this has been a 10 or 15-year process. I don’t think we realized how much we were subsidizing a few years back until we started looking at the numbers.”
“It’s easier to subsidize all of this when you’re doing okay, but when you aren’t, it’s hard to ratchet things in all at once,” added Harris.
A motion to approve the 2020 proposed 10 per cent increase in utility fee changes was carried. Also, council carried 1st and second readings of the Bylaw 1957 — Utility with amendments by removing Schedule A fees and services, schedule A utility charges for 2021, 2022 and 2023.