By Michael Gorman
Water rates for customers of the Yarmouth Water Utility could be going up.
During last night’s regular meeting of Yarmouth town council, councillors approved a recommendation from the town’s water utility to apply to the province’s Utility Review Board (URB) for a rate increase. If approved as recommended, the increase would amount to about an 85 per cent increase over three years from present rates.
Councillor Ken Langille, chairman of the water utility, said the increase, which would be split 90/10 between utility customers and fire protection (a split that reflects the approximate consumption share), is necessary because the utility is in need of major infrastructure improvements to its distribution system in order to curtail water loss rates. “An allowable amount (of loss) for a utility like ours is between 15 and 20 per cent,” he said. “Our town engineer and his staff have got our loss rate down from 50 per cent, which is scary, to 38 per cent . . . We want to get it down to 20 per cent.”
In order to achieve this goal, said Langille, the utility must begin replacing some of the aging pipes that link people to the water system. The only way for this to be financially possible is to raise rates and service charges. The fact is, the utility doesn't have the money to do it on its own. In several cases, because the utility hasn’t applied for a rate increase in five years, the move would also bring the utility’s fees more in line with provincial standards.
Although the requested increase reads as a large amount, Langille noted that Yarmouth’s water utility has some of the lowest rates in the province. Even if the full increase were to be granted, he said, it would still only put the utility in the middle of the pack with respect to the rest of the province. “It really amounts to 40 cents more a day on average per customer,” he said.
The proposed increases are the product of a study by W. H. Gates Utility Consultants Ltd. and G. A. Isenor Consulting Limited. Gates and Isenor will make the presentation on behalf of the water utility to the URB. The study can be viewed on the town’s website.
Increases proposed by the consultants report span three years. Highlights are as follows: an increase in the average quarterly bill from $60.32 to $96.61 in the first year for a residential customer (about a 60 per cent increase); $96.61 to $117.79 in the second year for a residential customer (about a 22 per cent increase); and $117.83 to $119.83 in the third year for a residential customer (about a two per cent increase).
These increases will help the utility fund about $2.3 million in infrastructure improvements that otherwise simply would not be possible. That spending number could be higher.
It was noted during the consultants’ presentation that a number of areas of comparable size to Yarmouth have higher water rates than Yarmouth (even after the desired rate increases are factored in) including Bridgewater, Annapolis, Greenwood, East Hants, Mahone Bay, Mulgrave and Stellarton.
Langille said that although such a large rate increase is “a bitter pill” for residents to swallow, the infrastructure improvements must happen before things get any worse with the system.
Langille said the town is considering offering water audits to residents as a means to helping to control any unnecessary water waste.
The request could be before the URB sometime in January or February with the possibility of implementing the rate increase before the start of the next budget year.
By Michael Gorman