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PUB-approved new water rates discussed at council committee meeting

One councillor said he would not vote in favour of third reading of the city’s water and sewer rate bylaw at the next council meeting.
city hall close up stock shot
Thompson City Hall

The April 19 Public Utilities Board order approving new water and wastewater rates first requested by the City of Thompson in November 2020 was the topic of discussion for nearly half of council’s committee of the whole meeting May 2.

The order approved a $100,60 minimum quarterly charge, up about 8.5 per cent from the current $92.76, and combined water and wastewater rates of $5.60 per cubic metre once a customer uses more than 14 cubic metres in a three-month billing period.

The new rates are set to take effect July 1, provided council passes third reading of the water and wastewater rate bylaw. First reading was approved in November 2020 and second reading in March of last year.

Coun. Duncan Wong, who voted against first and second reading of the rate bylaw, said he believes it’s a bad time for water rates to go up and that the city should try to reduce the cost of treating water that ultimately gets wasted by repairing water breaks more quickly, noting that some may take five or six weeks to be addressed.

"Those kind of things we can look into it to fix it,” said Wong.

One fo the other two councillors who voted against second reading, Earl Colbourne, said he would not support third reading.

“We’ve got to stop the rise, the cost to our taxpayers,” Colbourne said.

Provincial laws dictate that water and sewer utilities must pay for their operating and capital spending through the rates they charge and that they are not allowed to plan for a deficit budget.

Money being spent on water and sewer infrastructure over the next five years should eventually lead to fewer water breaks and less money spent treating water that never gets used, said deputy mayor Brian Lundmark.

“Our costs should come down because we’re dealing with newer pipe rather than pipe that was installed in the city in the 1950s and ‘60s,” he said.

The deputy mayor also lamented the long time that elapsed between first and second reading and PUB approval of the rates.

“It’s sad that it took so long to get it that now we’re talking about this like it was a brand new thing,” Lundmark said. “We discussed this at length two years ago.”

Ensuring that that unnecessary utility spending doesn’t occur is the key to stabilizing water rates, said Coun. Les Ellsworth.

“The more the expense goes up … so does the income that you need coming in,” he said.

2020 and 20201 were the first years since Thompsonites started paying for water via metered billing in 2011 that rates did not rise from the previous year. That was because council decided late in 2019 not to submit a new rate study until after the city had taken over the new sewage treatment plant so that it would have a better idea of how much it would cost to operate. To date, the plant has cost more to operate than it should because the city has been paying to have sewage hauled away from the plant because it is having trouble adequately treating all the wastewater produced in the city without disruptions during the treatment cycle.

Third reading of the water rate bylaw is expected to take place at the May 9 council meeting.