The City of Castlegar is looking for your input as they make plans to start using water meters as part of city utility billing. One step of that process was a public open house that was held Thursday evening.
About 75 residents attended the meeting, listening first to a presentation by Ehren Lee from Urban systems on some of the principles and concepts to balance when switching to a billing system that includes a portion based on usage. He gave examples of several cities that have switched to metered billing — Vernon, Nanaimo, Kelowna — and some of things that had gone wrong with the plans they adopted and some of the things that had gone right.
Lee explained that the key to a successful system is finding the balance between how much of a bill should be based on consumption and how much should be based on a flat user rate. Like other utilities such as gas and electricity, cities typically use the two portion method for ensuring that there is enough money coming in to maintain the system through the flat portion and then use the metered portion to cover running the day-to-day operation of the system and encourage conservation.
Castlegar’s water consumption is relatively high when compared with other BC cities, sparking a desire to cut back on the amount of water residents use.
According to the presentation, the base costs for supplying water and collecting sewage have increased, making it necessary for water utilities to examine their rates every few years to ensure there is enough money to maintain reliable services including water treatment facilities.
The presentation also included some rate applications for the public to consider including allowing waivers when leaks are found and fixed, using water meters to estimate sewer flows but the discounting for outdoor water use, making gradual tweaks to the consumption charge as needed based on a growing database for water use and improving savings accounts to be prepared for asset renewal and extraordinary climate years.
Some common concerns that have been mentioned throughout the community were also addressed. One is that there is a new sewer tax. There is no new sewer tax, residents currently pay for a water and a sewer utility rate on their utility bill. The new system is just a new way of proportioning that same utility bill. Residents are currently charged an annual rate of $419.25 for water and $340.75 for sewer. Residents that are on septic systems, such as many in Blueberry, do not currently pay for sewer, this will continue to be the case under the new system.
After the presentation, a short question and answer period was followed by a time for participants to break up into small groups to have a chance to ask more questions and provide input on ideas. Castlegar’s director of civic works Chris Barlow was pleased with how that portion of the meeting went. “From a staff perspective, we thought it was excellent. It gave everybody an opportunity to have their input heard and to get a real good chance to flush out ideas,” said Barlow. “In a smaller group, one person could throw something out there and everyone had a chance to talk about it. I think that was really appreciated by the public.”
Feedback forms are available at City Hall and at castlegar.ca. Forms can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or to City Hall until Friday, Oct. 28. One other thing that is now available on the city’s website is a link to sign up for e-billing for your utility bill. Once you are registered you will be able to access details of your account including bill summaries, transactions and account balances.
The feedback that is gathered will now be analyzed and a proposal will be brought forward at another open house some time in November. “We really appreciated the feed back we got,” said Barlow. “I think the next open house is going to be very valuable.”