Tofino mulls lower proposed base rates for residential water users

If you live in Tofino, the rate structure that determines your water bill is locked in for the remainder of 2015 but your local officials are still trying to figure out how to charge you in 2016 and beyond.

As was reported in last week’s Westerly News, the district held a community meeting on June 16 to lay out a plan that would have seen residential water users paying a quarterly base rate of $52 attached to a water allowance of 45 cubic meters.

Residences that went over their 45 cubic metre allowance would be subject to a tiered system of $1.20 per cubic metre between 45-60 and $2.80 per cubic meter after that.

Non-residential users would be charged a quarterly base rate of $40 without an allowance and would pay per cubic metre used—$1.30 in winter months and $1.80 in the summer months—with no tiered rate.

The community meeting’s audience clamoured against the $52 residential base rate suggesting a 45 cubic metre allowance was too high and would not only be punitive to low water users, but would also nix their motivation to conserve.

During a June 17 special meeting, council agreed to investigate lowering the residential base rate to about $35 and the quarterly allowance to 30 cubic metres.

A tiered structure would remain in place with a second tier between 30-60 cubic metres and keeping the top tier of $2.80 for residences that go over 60. 

Coun. Duncan McMaster supported charging all users a fixed base rate but added the residential rate should be based on a quarterly allowance closer to 30 cubic metres rather than 45.

“Whether you’re using a cup of water or ten gallons, I think, as soon as you turn the tap on you should be paying for the privilege of having access to water,” he said.

Coun Al Anderson said lowering the proposed base rate would help with both equity and conservation. 

 â€œWhat we’re trying to capture is a user level that’s frugal and conservative and give them an opportunity to have a lower fixed rate,” he said.

Coun. Greg Blanchette agreed.

“If you give everybody an average consumption then you’re not incentivizing people to drop below the average consumption,” he said.

Council directed staff to look into the possibility of lowering the base rate while keeping the tiered system in place but Coun. Cathy Thicke wondered why tiered rates—designed to promote water conservation—would only be charged to the residential sector.

 â€œWe’re using money to, for lack of a better word, penalize or change one group’s behaviour but we’re not saying it’s important in the other…If it’s important to educate, or it’s important to steward or conserve this resource, then it needs to be equitable for all,” she said.

“We’re saying it is important to send a strong signal, why is it also not important to send a strong signal…to the commercial and institutional class?”

Osborne said Tofino’s commercial ratepayers are too diverse for tiered rates to be fair.

“It would just be impossible to say that a gift store could be tiered the same way that a large resort could be,” she said. “Unfortunately, the tiered system is a tool that would be so grossly inequitable we aren’t able to use it.”

Thicke remained unconvinced. 

 â€œYou’re targeting the wrong people with the message,” she said. “The biggest consumers are not getting the very same explicit message.”

She suggested a two-tiered system with a base allowance of 30 cubic metres and a second tier for residences that go over 30 cubic metres.

“I think it’s simple and it’s fair,” she said. “Whether you are a large family, or whether you are choosing to run a vacation rental, you pay for it.”

Council did not support this idea. 

 â€œIf you go to two tiers you really are hitting families,” McMaster said.

He said the top $2.80 tier would only affect a small percentage of residential users who actually cross the 60 cubic metre threshold.

“(For) these people, I don’t think it matters what you charge them, they’ll still going to be using a lot of water…It’s not affecting the majority of the population in Tofino,” he said.

“I’m in support of having a higher rate.”

Blanchette said the top tier would help capture vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts within the residential class. 

“They will be using higher water and we don’t want to penalize the true residents by raising their water rates so I think that’s an attempt to address the inequality between residential and commercial use of residential,” he said.

“It’s an inequality, but I think it’s one were going to have to live with.”

Osborne said a two-tiered system in the residential class would not send a strong enough conservation message.

Coun. Dorothy Baert wondered if resorts would be paying enough into the system with the proposed rate structure.

“I’m just concerned that the residents are still, overall, paying disproportionately for the total water consumption,” Baert said. “Right now it’s just not really still seeming fair.”

Osborne noted the district’s water rate equity analysis showed the residential sector would be paying its fair share but Baert suggested resorts put a significant cost on Tofino’s water infrastructure.

“Everything that’s gone into that system, doesn’t really represent a community of residents of 2,000 people, it represents a resort municipality,” Baert said.

“I’m not saying that the resorts have to carry all of that cost, but I do think they have to carry the larger balance of that cost because it’s the cost of doing business. To provide water to resorts that provide hot tubs and showers and all the rest of it has required that we provide infrastructure that allows that to happen.”

Osborne asked Baert if she believed ratepayers in the commercial sector should be charged more than their fair share.

“What I think I hear you saying is that one of the reasons why it costs $689,000 a year to run the water system is because of the tourism economy, so you seem to want to pick out the businesses that are responsible for that tourism economy and have them pay more than their fair share,” she said

“To target one area because they created more demand on the system could be argued from many different perspectives of all the other benefits that came with it.”

Council is expected to discuss water rates again at a July 21 meeting.

 

 Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca