The fees Ucluelet is charging to build homes are pricing locals out of the market, according to local builder Matt Harbidge.
“We’re getting fee’d to death,” he lamented during a special meeting Ucluelet’s municipal council invited trades-people to on April 4.
“These costs are getting to a point where regular people can’t afford things anymore…You’re starting to deal with affordable housing. You can’t build affordable housing. It’s not possible because there’s so many fees involved now. We need to figure out how to work together and figure this out, because it’s getting absolutely ridiculous with fees.”
He took particular exception to an inspection fee the district is charging before a home’s residential water meter is approved.
Ucluelet’s water is currently charged on a flat-rate, but the district plans to move to a meter system and is requiring all new homes being built to have a meter installed.
According to Harbidge, homeowners must pay roughly $400 to purchase the meters, and pay a plumber to install them, before paying a $150 fee for the district’s Public Works crew to check if it’s been installed properly.
“By the time you actually pay for all your fees, your water hookup’s $900,” he said. “That’s just a piece of plastic put between two pipes.”
He added those fees get passed on to homeowners and rack up quickly.
“Every increase in a fee, every increase in all these little things, adds up to somebody’s grocery bill for every two to three weeks,” he said.
“[It’s] $450,000 for a small family home in a town where we don’t make that much money. That’s the cost of building a home. People aren’t getting rich and becoming multimillionaires selling houses in this town. It’s the cost of building a small family home. It’s reality.”
St. Jacques suggested the fees couldn’t be too much of a hinderance considering Ucluelet’s current building boom.
“We’re still building right now. You guys are all busy,” she said adding fees are required to help the district pay for services.
“We, more than any level of government, are aware of the challenges for the people that live here…We’re out there everyday and we pay the bills and we know what it’s like. But, at the same time, we have costs at the Village Office to do all the programs that we do.”
Harbidge questioned how it could cost $150 for a Public Works employee to make sure a water meter is installed correctly.
St. Jacques tried to suggest there is more to it then just checking the meter, but Harbidge cut her off.
“Absolutely there is not more to it than that,” he said. “We install the meters. We do all the work. [Public Works] has to check its done right.”
Coun. Mayco Noel responded district staff time can get expensive and added the work isn’t done once Public Works has inspected the meter, as approvals must be signed off on and electronically filed.
“It’s just one of those things. Those guys are all $50 an hour guys, by the time you throw the benefits in,” he said. “There’s more to it behind the background. It’s not done when they jump back in their truck.”
Local builder Lyle Morrow questioned the need for the water meters and St. Jacques responded they would help promote conservation of a resource that often dries out during the busy season.
“We do have water shortages in the summer,” St. Jacques said. “So, we need people to start conserving. Especially if we start to build out even more, out to the Wyndansea Property.”
Harbidge said Ucluelet’s water concerns should be addressed before too much more development is permitted.
“Living in a small town, you can’t go, ‘Sure, develop Wyndansea, we’ll figure out the water later,’” he said. “We have to stop at some point and say, ‘We’ve almost reached our development max.’ You can’t just grants permits and create new development without looking at a bigger picture.”
St. Jacques responded “we’re aware of all that,” but Harbidge pressed further.
“Well you kind of aren’t really,” he argued suggesting tourists are significant water users and metres wouldn’t likely affect summer’s shortages. “The big draw in our town with water isn’t me coming home from work and having a shower.”
Noel suggested meters are a start towards better conservation practices and added they would create more fairness in terms of water payments as, currently, houses are charged the same amount no matter how much they use.