By Cole Parkinson
The Municipal District of Taber has implemented some changes to their water rates after a few recommendations from the finance committee were brought forward.
With these recommendations, council discussed further changes to the rates as the recommended option was to have the fixed water charges for the hamlets be maintained at the 2018 rate and the overage rate be adjusted to a rate of $1.87 per cubic meter.
“I don’t feel it is fair that Grassy Lake has a higher water rate than the others. It’s been our commitment to try and get them up to the same and over the last few years, nothing has been done. We can either lower the Grassy rate or increase the others,” stated Coun. Brian Brewin at council’s regular meeting on May 28.
In Schedule “A” utility charges, Grassy Lake has a fixed rate of $57 per 222.7 cubic metres per month, the overage rate is $1.87 per cubic metre for water use exceeding 22.7 cubic metres per month and sewer is $16.90 per month.
Chamberlain School has a water fixed rate of $200 per month, overage rate of $1.87 per cubic meter exceeding 115 cubic metres and sewer is a fixed rate of $50.70.
Meanwhile, Hays and Enchant have fixed rates of $54 per 222.7 cubic metres per month, an overage rate of $1.87 per cubic metre for water use exceeding 22.7 cubic metres per month and sewer is $16.90 per month.
Hays and Enchant schools and Enchant Park have water fixed rates of $200 per month, overage rate of $1.87 per cubic meter exceeding 115 cubic metres and sewer is a fixed rate of $50.70.
Some on council asked why there was a difference between the three hamlets.
“When we originally took them over, we had a large variance between the rates because they all had their own water commissions. Grassy’s had been working more to break even on their commission. It was our understanding that we couldn’t increase them all in one year but over the years we would bring all the hamlets up to the same amount,” explained Brewin.
Council also asked how different each hamlet looked in terms of water usage.
“It definitely looks different in each hamlet because the majority of the distribution costs are fixed costs. There are a small amount of accounts or services in hamlets so there really is no economy of scale,” said Bryan Badura, director of corporate services.
Council was receptive to bumping up both Enchant and Hays to $55 for 2019.
As far as the $1.87 overage charge, administration explained why it was the recommended amount.
“The water plants are operated by commissions and the M.D. of Taber purchases the water from the commissions on a per cubic meter basis,” added Badura.
Another concern stemming from the overage charge from council was around the financial loss the M.D. still sees from the raise to $1.87.
“Currently it is 19 cents under (cost). We are losing money every year on overage,” said Coun. Jen Crowson. “Even at $1.87 that is just cost of water, not cost of anything else. We are still giving it at a loss, even at that rate.”
“Every time there was new regulations and requirements for water plants, it made it more expensive. To catch up to those costs of producing or treating water, there would be large sums in the utility rates. However, we smoothed those out over the years and slowly caught up with the overage charges to cover the cost of purchasing water. There is a fee on top of purchasing the water that each hamlet has and that would be in the distribution of that water. The $1.87 gets the water to the clear well inside the old treatment facilities. From there, there is still a distribution system that requires maintenance, staff with regards to keeping that water distributing to hamlets,” replied Badura.
Other councillors also saw the financial losses in water usage as a problem.
With the M.D. also facing plenty of other challenges like oil and gas decline, Coun. John Turcato was adamant an adjustment should be made to come closer to breaking even.
“Last year, the losses for water was $416,000 for three hamlets. I think we need to move into a place where that narrows a bit. That is a lot of money and with shrinking revenues, we will have to look at how we can save some money,” he said.
It was also pointed out other factors such as the truck fills in the hamlets were factors in the loss from water use.
“It’s not just people who live there,” added Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga.
A motion was made to have all hamlets the same fixed rate in the next two years, increase Enchant and Hays fixed rates to $55 and keep Grassy Lake at $57 and to approve the $1.87 overage charge.
The motion was unanimously carried by council.
They also discussed other Schedule “A” utility charges.
In Schedule “A”, disconnect and reconnect charges are $50 to turn off and on in each hamlet, water meter calibration is $150, water meter charge costs for new utility installations for meters damaged by consumers are invoiced at the cost to the municipality (5/8 meters are currently $550), bulk water charges per cubic meter is $2, a new water and sewer service connection fee is by construction estimate and hamlet garbage collection is $10 per month for residential and $10 for business collection.
Council unanimously approved the Schedule “A” utility charges with amendments.
Another finance committee recommendation was to have truck fill rates for all hamlets be increased to $2 per cubic meter.
“With purchasing the water at $1.87, with the system we have set up in each hamlet, there are additional fixed costs for operating,” said Badura. “I believe the $2 brings us more along to what our actual costs are for operating.”
Council unanimously approved the finance committee recommendation.