City of Fernie City Hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

City of Fernie City Hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie changes sewer, water charges bylaw to include campgrounds

The one campground within Fernie wasn’t paying a water and sewer rate, but an agreed-upon fee per site since opening

The City of Fernie has amended it’s water and sewer bylaw charges to capture payments from the one campground within municipal limits.

According to a report delivered at the August 22 council meeting, the existing water and sewer user charge bylaws lack any wording that allows the city to charge campgrounds for hookups to municipal water or sewer infrastructure, and this was only discovered after an investigation earlier this year.

“After some investigation, the bylaw had no language to allow us to bill for campgrounds using the city’s water and sewer systems,” said the city’s director of Finance Bryn Burditt, who said that the campground within municipal borders – the Fernie RV Resort – hadn’t been charged under the bylaw since August 2016. The business opened in April 2016.

Burditt therefore recommended updates to the bylaw that would incorporate wording allowing the city to charge campgrounds for water and sewer hookups.

Under the changes, campgrounds will now be charged $8.83 per campground space per month for water hookup, and $11.17 per space for sewer – which are the same rates hotels are charged per room.

In comments during discussion, Mayor Ange Qualizza said it was “staggering” that the campground had not been charged water and sewer for so long.

She added that given concerns in the community about a recent water and sewer increase to cover infrastructure and staffing shortfalls, moves like this one to make users pay their share were part of improving affordability overall.

The owner of the Fernie RV Resort, Reto Barrington, contested the assertion by the city that his business had not been paying its due, telling The Free Press that he had secured written agreements with the city back in 2016 to pay a nominal fee of $11.50, per site per month (a ‘temporary rate charge’).

Barrington said the fee was decided based on comparable municipalities with similar gaps in bylaw language, such as Whistler. The payment the resort agreed to pay included both water and sewer, was based on the 97 serviced sites at the park when it was opened, and hadn’t been amended since 2016.

“That was agreed to in writing,” said Barrington, who added he had asked the city to speak to him if there was going to be any changes to the bylaw. He said that had not happened.

Barrington said that the RV Resort had paid the fee annually up to 2019 into general revenue. “And then they stopped sending us invoices for some reason. Whatever we thought we should be paying, we have kept on our books as an accrued liability. It’s not like we were trying to dodge anybody, but it’s up to them to send us a bill.”

Mayor Ange Qualizza served as a councillor on the previous term of council when the Fernie RV Resort opened, and when agreements were signed between the city and the owners.

At the August 22 meeting, councillors unanimously supported amendments to include campgrounds in the water and sewer charges bylaw.

The bylaw amendments are not retroactive, and are effective as of August 2022.

Note: A previous version of this story did not include comment from Reto Barrington, owner of Fernie RV Resort. The Free Press apologizes for the oversight.

READ MORE: Utility fees in Fernie to increase by an additional 18.4 percent



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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