Volume 12 Week 5

Monday, Sept. 18


 

Posted Sept. 13

Posted Aug. 5

Posted July 20

survey solution

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette

Beacon Hill,
Cyrville Ward
Tim Tierney



 

 

 


Commentary
Caught in the water conservation trap
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Ottawa property owners are about to get a rude awakening of their own making. The city's finance and economic development committee recently released a good news, bad news report on the state of the city's water and sewer services.

The good news is that Ottawa residents have continued to reduce their water consumption, and in doing so, have seen a slight reduction in their water and sewer bills.

The bad new is that water conservation cost the city nearly $19 million in 2014, and that despite a six per cent inrease in water and sewer rates. In 2013, the shortfall was $13.5 million and in 2012 it was only $4.3 million. I'm starting to see a trend here.

In the short term, last year's deficit can be offset by dipping into the city's water and sewer reserves. In the long term, it's a ticking time bomb for city property owners.

The drop in per capita consumption of water is more than just a temporary trend. The advent of smaller toilet tanks, high efficient shower heads and taps, and fewer people watering their lawns, means water consumption will continue to decline as will water and sewer revenue.

The city's philosophy is, and always has been, user pay. In other words water and sewer services should be paid by water and sewer users, including infrastructure.

The problem is that the city's water and sewer infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade, especially inside the Greenbelt where a lot of the sewer pipes and watermains were built in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The dilema for city council is in trying to decide how the bill should be paid and who should pay it.

One of the arguments against amalgamation is that it was going to force residents living in the former municipalities of Gloucester, Cumberland, Nepean and Kanata to pay for Ottawa's aging infrasturcture. Those worse fears have become a reality for suburban ratepayers.

There are only two ways to pay for maintaining and/or upgrading water and sewer infrastructure - reserves or debt. Either way, it's the taxpayer who eventually foots the bill. Covering 19 million dollar deficits by dipping into reserves is unsustainable, especially at the rate the deficits have been increasing the past five years.

If the city were to operate under a pay-as-you-go philosphy, you would need to raise taxes an additional two per cent to cover the deficit in the water and sewer rate supported program.

The bottom line for now is that the more you conserve the more you're going to pay either directly through higher water and sewer rates, or indirectly through higher debt servicing charges on ever increasing long term debt.

In four years between 2009 and 2013 our long term debt for water and sewer investments more than doubled from $77.6 million in 2009 to $187.7 million in 2013.

The only way to eliminate the deficit in the water and sewer rate supported budget is to be much more conservative in estimating revenue based on a realistic projection, and adjust the contribution from reserves, or the increase in debt load, to reflect the declining revenue.

The day is coming when the cost of maintaining and upgrading aging water and sewer infrastructure is going to have to be born on your property tax bill and not your water and sewer bill. They are a fixed cost, easily estimateable, and are necessary to each and every non-rural resident who washes their hands, takes a shower, or flushes their toilet.

The cost to process waste water and provide clean water through adequate water treatment should be born on the user based on their consumption. The less you use the less you should have to pay without fear of rate increases triple and quadruple the rate of inflation.

The odds that the city will change the way it pays for water and sewer services anytime soon is slim at best. Which means residents can expect to see further increases in the water and sewer rate until such time they reach the limit on their conservation efforts.

(Posted 3 p.m., April 4)

 

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