Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Few Questions About the Proposed New Water Rates

If there's one thing this council and its immediate predecessor know how to do, it's raising your water rates. It seems to be an almost annual exercise - four times in the last five years. The last time was about a year ago, maybe less, and apparently the calculations at that time were out of whack, so we're back to hit up city residents again.

A few questions that I'll be asking at council tomorrow afternoon:

Why do city residents have to pay more for 100 cubic feet of water than someone who lives outside the city? A city resident will be paying $2.89 for every 100 cubic feet, someone outside the city will pay $2.62 for the same volume of water. A city resident's increase is $0.47 for that volume, the rural resident's increase is $0.34. The rationale in the report is that the rural resident shouldn't have to pay for some operating costs - valve maintenance, fire hydrant maintenance, water crane, meter reading, meter maintenance and water service connection maintenance. To me, we are providing a service to rural residents that would be much costlier to them if they had to operate their own system - having them pay the same rate as city residents would recognize that they're saving money by not having to develop their own system. In that way, the city rate would be lower, the non-resident rate would be higher, but both rates would be lower than the current proposed city rate.

Last year's bylaw set capital fixed service charges for three years. Since the truly costly issues happen on the capital side of things, why can these rates be set for three years, but not the consumption rates?

Administratively, why can't water be billed monthly, like power and energy rates? It would make budgeting much easier for most people, especially now that rates are leaping at 7% each year for residential users (this change was set two years ago, and will continue for another 5 years, although it's hard to keep track, since the changes to the system appear to be continual). I'm half expecting administration to tell me that to do this would cost $85,000 - that seems to be their standard estimate for making any kind of administrative change that might help make citizens' lives easier, like providing passes for free access to the dump, instead of having free weeks.

And finally, what genius suggested that a good spin to put on this would be to tell residents that we're helping them save money by doing this? It's insulting to people - we're suggesting that they all have wasteful water habits, and we're ignoring the fact that water is a necessity of life, and we are increasing its cost. If we were really concerned about reducing consumption, we would provide rebates to people for purchasing water saving shower heads, or low or dual flush toilets. But we're not interested in that, we're interested in getting more money from tax-payers, but in a way that doesn't have to be labeled as a tax increase. We ignore that we're just picking a different pocket on the same pair of pants.

Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of just going back to the same well (sorry for the water-related pun), we tried different ways of raising money instead. This council doesn't give much thought to generating revenues, whether it's through charging adequate direct user fees for city facilities, or doing things like selling advertising on city buses. Our approach is unimaginative and unsustainable, and the people of Prince Albert deserve better.

"In an ocean or in a glass, cool water is such a gas." - The Beach Boys