Utility rates for water and sewer service in Lac La Biche County homes, businesses and water-fill stations will be on the rise, once a new utility fee bylaw is officially approved.
Council is expected to soon green-light what will become a 45 per cent increase to all municipal water and sewer services over the next three years. The new utility fee bylaw is expected to receive its third and final reading at the next council meeting, following a lengthy discussion at the January 24 council meeting.
Average home could see monthly hike of $30
The new rates will see water fees on residential utility bills going from $1 per cubic metre of consumption to $1.10 starting next month. An additional increase of 15 cents per cubic metre will be added to rates in 2024 and another 25 cents will be added to the rate in 2025, bringing the cost to $1.45 per cubic metre by the end of the three-year plan. Sewer rates are also expected to be increased by at least as much.
An average Alberta family of four is said to consume about 35 cubic metres of water per month, meaning local ratepayers could see an increase of at least $30 a month for their water and sewer utility costs by 2025.
Truck fill increases
Once the new bylaw is approved, the rate hikes will also be seen at municipal truck fill stations and septic disposal sites.
Coin-slot payments at the municipality's three truck fills will be going up by the same per-cubic metre increments starting next month, once the utility fee bylaw is approved. The current coin-slot rate is $2.20 per cubic metre. By 2025, that rate will be bumped to $2.70 The current rate for out-of-area commercial users at the truck fills is $8 per cubic metre. That rate will move to $8.50 by 2025.
Lac La Biche County residents and local commercial operators do have access to lower rates at the truck fills by using assigned account numbers. Only local customers can get the accounts, which charge the residential rate of one dollar per cubic metre. While those rates will also be going up in accordance with the residential rates, the idea remains to provide lower costs to area residents, says the municipality's Finance Department Manager Zeeshan Hasan.
"All residents have the ability to set up an account with the County, and they have a lower rate. So it's a code you put in.. The idea behind it is to support the local residents with a lower rate. If you don't have a code, you pay the higher rate," he said.
But what about forgetful, local residents — or those who don't know about the local accounts — asked councillor Sterling Johnson, who boiled over during the water debate at Tuesday's meeting. Johnson "called out" the municipality's financial boss for suggesting that only non-local users pay the higher fees.
"It does affect our county residents. If I go up to the truck fill at the top of the hill, and I punch in my account, I would pay $1.10. If I went there and forgot my password, and I put coins in, then I am paying the higher rate — it's not just people outside, it affects all of us, including people like me," said the councillor to the senior staff member. " ... so your statements are false, and I'm calling you on it."
Hasan responded, first outlining again the 'local-first' principle behind the rates, while also encouraging all residents who may need bulk water to sign up for the account.
"As the councillor mentioned, if the resident doesn't have a code, and they show up at the truck-fill, yes, they will pay a higher rate because we don't have the stations manned to verify if they are a resident or not," Hasan said, adding that the process to get a local account is very simple. "Residents can call in and set up an account ... we have a system in place that is catering toward the county residents to pay a lower rate — as long as, of course, the residents register appropriately and set up proper accounts. If they choose not to set up an account, then yes, they are paying a higher rate."
Councillor Charlyn Moore attempted to simplify the issue further for any council members having troubles. She compared the accounts to loyalty cards used in local grocery stores.
"If I go into Independent Grocers and don't have my 'club card' on me, I might pay a little extra for that bag of oranges," she said, thanking Hasan for his presentation and suggesting further ways to clarify any lasting confusion. "I'm assuming there's a sign — or there could be a sign — at the fill stations that says, 'Are you a resident? Do you need a code? Do you need an account? Please call this number.' I'm sure there are ways to ensure that everybody in the County that uses this system, knows that there is a system."
Councillor Jason Stedman also said the account process for bulk water is simple.
"I got a code, years ago. It was easy. I remember the code — and away it goes," he said.
The new fee structure for all municipal water and sewer services was part of the recent 2023 budget discussions. The purpose of the increases is to reduce operating expenditures on the heavily subsidized municipal service. In earlier discussions it was noted that the actual costs to the municipality to produce a cubic metre of potable, municipal water is around six dollars.
The increased rates at the truck-fill stations are expected to bring more than $25,000 in additional revenues over the next three years.
Septage disposal fees are also marked for an increase for local commercial operators tarting this year, rising from five dollars per cubic metre to $6.25. In 2024 the rate will jump to eight dollars, and then to $10.25 by 2025. Out-of-area commercial or industrial customers will see septic disposal rates go from the current $10 a cubic metre to $12.50 in 2023, and up to $20.50 per cubic metre by 2025 — more than doubling the current rates.
The new utility rate bylaw needed unanimous approval in its third reading on January 24 to go to its final approval. Councillor Darlene Beniuk was the lone vote against that unanimous approval, forcing the bylaw to come back for a final vote at the next council meeting on February 7.