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Water rate debate floods district meeting

Coun. Catherine Lord
Image Credit: Contributed
April 05, 2013 - 10:37 AM

By Charlotte Helston

Some Greater Vernon politicians are concerned certain user groups are unfairly drowning in their water fees.

The discussion of water rate equity came up at a Greater Vernon Advisory Committee meeting Thursday in the context of recently raised water fees and looming changes to the Master Water Plan.

The district breaks water users into four categories: agricultural customers, domestic users, industrial/commercial/institutional (ICI) users, and "other" users, including golf courses and nurseries.

The Regional District of North Okanagan's general manager of engineering, Dale McTaggart, says each group pays a different fee—or combination of fees when you look at base rates and added consumption costs. He says the group treading the deepest financial waters are the high-user residential customers.

"But then again, those are often the ones over-watering their lawns, and we have to think about conservation," McTaggart says. "If you want to use that much water, you have to pay for it."

Zee Marcolin, utilities engineer, says raising water rates is one way of encouraging people to use less water.

"You set (consumption rate) tiers to punish the higher users," Marcolin says.

But rates aren't just set by how much you use, and GVAC director Catherine Lord wonders why that is.

"Everyone gets the same water, why have we set different rates for different groups?" Lord says.

Lord is especially concerned about the impact on small businesses that fall under the ICI category, while GVAC chair  Mike Macnabb questions the relatively low rate paid by golf courses and nurseries that generally chug a lot of water.

New rates went into effect April 1, and they too are contested. Director Bob Spiers says when the hiked rate was passed by the RDNO board in March, everyone thought they were agreeing to a 3% rise.

"But the average user went up 8%," Spiers says. "When we left, everyone thought it was 3%, but did anyone know what they were voting for?"

Director Bob Fleming led a motion for all future rate changes to be preceded by a report on the actual financial impact it would have on user groups to better inform the decision.

Director Gyula Kiss alone opposed the motion, saying the root of the rate problem still hadn't been addressed.

"We need to look at taxation to pay for (infrastructure), we can't keep raising the rates," Kiss says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call (250)309-5230.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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