Thompson city council approved new water and sewer rates in a 5-4 vote after more than half-an-hour of debate at their May 24 meeting.
The new rates, which were approved by the Public Utilities Board in April, will take effect July 1 and include an 8.5 per cent increase in the minimum quarterly rate to $100.53, up from $92.76, and a 13.5 per cent increase in the combined consumption rate, from $4.93 to $5.60 per cubic metre. The consumption fees begin to apply once a customer uses more than 14 cubic metres in a three-month billing period.
Councillors Les Ellsworth, Earl Colbourne, Duncan Wong and Jeff Fountain opposed the increase.
“I can’t do it in good conscience,” said Ellsworth, noting that people won’t even be able to water their lawns, which will hinder efforts to beautify the city. “No one can afford what we’re doing.”
Wong said that the costs for residents are only going to continue getting higher until the city figures out a way to cut costs and reduce the amount of treated water that goes to waste, mostly though water breaks, as higher rates lead to lower consumption, which then leads to higher costs again.
The PUB noted in April that water use in Thompson has steadily declined since metered water billing began in 2011, though the usage in 2020 was similar to what it was in 2019, which may be an indication that the usage has stabilized. However, 2020 and 2021 were the first years since Thompson residents and businesses started being charged for water by usage that rates didn’t rise from the previous year.
Even those who supported third reading of the water rates bylaw said it wasn’t easy to do.
“It’s difficult to have a rate increase of this magnitude anytime,” said Coun. Braden McMurdo, who hopes that the replacement of water and sewer lines over the next few years that the rates will partially fund can help the city get a handle on utility costs.
Coun. Andre Proulx was similarly reluctant but said he didn’t see any better choice.
“It needs to be balanced or else we’ll just get taxed in another way,” he said.
The PUB requires water and sewer utilities to plan for balanced budgets.