Penticton is taking residents’ concerns over changes to how sanitary sewer is billed to heart.
City council gave staff the go ahead to revisit the sanitary sewer rate structure and develop a more equitable method of calculating charges. (read more: Changes to bills could mean renters fees go up)
In 2015, a consultant conducted an eight-month review of utility rates, the end result of which was to set new five-year rates for electrical, water and sewer that more fairly distributed costs to those that use the utility.
Along with that came a major change in how sanitary sewer rates were calculated. It was based on the number of fixtures you have in your home and the value of your land and property. The new system, based on water usage and the size of the water line to the property was expected to more fairly represent the water returned to the sanitary sewer: a car wash would pay more, and two people living alone in a expensive home with five bathrooms would pay less.
But some users pointed out that the water they used wasn’t all returned to the sanitary sewer, being used for other purposes, like irrigation.
Those other uses, said city engineer Ian Chapman, made it a challenge to come up with a fair rate structure. Concerns were raised about billing for irrigation and pool water, which isn’t directly returned to the sanitary sewer, and by owners of mobile home parks, who are required by law to maintain a green space at the edge of the park, again irrigation water that isn’t returned to the sewer system.
Some businesses also have concerns noting that water used in an industrial cooling process, for example, is returned to the sanitary sewer.
Chapman said city staff have come up with a number of proposals to address these concerns, including a process for business to apply for a reduction in the volume being billed, related to their use of water, like coffee shops or garden centres.
Chapman said staff is addressing residential concerns by developing a dual system, with a fixed charge based on meter size from April to September, and a consumption charge based on water use from October to March. This method would allow for heavier water use in the summer, when irrigation is taking place and pools are being filled.
Concerns have also been raised about the sanitary sewer charge being shifted from the property tax bill to the utility bills, shifting the charge in some cases to the renter from the property owner. It has been suggested this amounts to an illegal rent increase on behalf of the landlord, bypassing the agreement between the renter and landlord.
“I did inquire with our collections manager and it was my understanding there was no illegality to what is being proposed,” said Chapman, noting the utility contract was between the city and the holder of the water account.
“How that is then dealt with between that person and any tenants is their business. We provided ample time for that to be discussed and the tenant and landlord to come to an accommodation,” said Chapman, who promised to make further inquiries.