Considering the high waters that have been making headlines lately, it's rather topical that water was also part of a couple of agenda items at last Monday's council meeting. Both are issues that I've raised in the past, and finally other members of council are starting to seriously consider and debate the options.
The first one is to account for the utilities costs (water, sewage, garbage collection, recycling) for all city facilities. I've been making this suggestion for years, because our user fees are based on such fees covering a percentage of the costs of those facilities (generally 40 - 50%), and if you don't include utility costs when figuring these out, the result is that the user fees are based on a lower than actual cost. So who picks up the rest of the cost? The taxpayer of course.
I'm not sure why this inequity has been allowed to continue, but at least now, we'll know what the real costs are. Whether we adjust user fees will be another decision to be made once we have that information. Considering the increases in water rates that have been necessary this year, I think that this additional information will be useful for making future increases a bit more fair.
The second is the decision to start billing for water on a monthly, rather than a quarterly basis, starting in 2014. I think that the arguments for this outweigh the additional costs. Quarterly billing will be easier for families to plan and budget for. In an extremely unscientific poll, when I asked other members of council when their next water bill was due, not one could answer. Neither could I (although when I asked Andrea, she knew). So if, for example, your water bill is lost in the mail, you're unlikely to realize it until you get the overdue notice. If it comes monthly, you'll notice its absence.
For many families, paying one-third of the current bill on a monthly basis will be easier to manage as well. Currently, our family's water bill is in the $210 range - setting aside $70 every month sounds easier, even though it will add up to the same thing. And I would hope that, at some point, we'll be able to implement equalized billing, just like SaskPower and SaskEnergy do. And to help reduce our costs, I'm hoping that the city can make the move to electronic billing, just like the provincial utilities are encouraging people to do.
With monthly billing, we'll also be able to follow up on non-payment of bills more quickly, and be able to note problems, like unusually high bills which may indicate a leak somewhere, more quickly.
Water is one of those city services that isn't very glamourous, but that affects everyone. I hope with these two changes, we're moving to more equitable, and more affordable, provision of this necessity of life.
"Thousands have lived without love, but not one without water." - W.H. Auden