The proposed 50 per cent increase to residential sewer rates in Port Alberni will stand despite opposition from at least two city councillors.
City council voted 5-2 against a motion from Coun. Hira Chopra to lower the increase from the proposed 50 per cent to 10 per cent.
Residents are expected to pay $201 in sewer fees this year, which is up from $134 in 2012.
“We’re going to get what we pay for. We’re not hiding it,” Coun. Dan Washington said. “I’m not sure how much it costs to flush a toilet in other communities.”
The decrease was proposed at an earlier meeting but the request was tabled pending a report to council.
The report, compiled by city finance manager Cathy Rothwell noted that sewer revenue from 2012 was $1.2 million. Approximately $234,000 is needed in 2013 to service new debt which, when added to operating expenditures, totals $1.4 million that is needed. The city will have to transfer $385,000 from general revenue to balance the books.
The new debt is in the form of the costs to acquire the sewage lagoon and accompanying infrastructure from Catalyst in a deal that is still playing out, city manager Ken Watson said.
Three things are driving the 50 per cent increase, Watson said: debt repayment for Catalyst sewer lagoon purchase loan; stopping the transfer of funds from general revenue to sewer fund; and increasing sewer operating and capital project spending.
As well, the city’s sewer system is aging and wearing like the roads and it needs to be replaced, Watson said.
The sewer fund should underwrite itself with fees instead of cash infusions from another city fund, therefore a 50 per cent increase — or $385,000 — to fees is required, he explained.
Taking out a loan to do sewer fund business makes sense because of low interest rates, Chopra said. And the city borrowed before to buy land from the mill, so there’s precedence.
“The borrowing rate is good so why are you charging the taxpayers, why are you breaking their backs?” he asked.
Borrowing to do capital work is mortgaging the city’s future, Coun. Jack McLeman said. “And for what, just to say that ‘we held taxes down, we’re good guys so vote for us?’”
The city’s sewer infrastructure is old and has to be revamped, he added. “We’ve been harping about aging infrastructure. We’ve seen it and it’s pretty old.”