Water and sewer billings for vacant properties continue in Sparwood

The District of Sparwood passed on a report regarding implementing a new rate for vacant properties and their water and sewer bills.

The District of Sparwood passed on a report regarding implementing a new rate for vacant properties and their water and sewer bills at the November 17 council meeting.

A request was made for the district to consider amending the rates bylaw, allowing property owners to stop their billings when their property has been vacated and the water has been shut off at the curb stop.

Coun. Sonny Saad strongly encouraged council to consider the report and change the bylaw to reflect vacant properties.

“My opinion is that if I ask them to shut my water off, I’m not paying anything … If I ask them to shut it off I don’t understand why you would ask me to pay for utilities that I’m not using. We have meters that can be read from anywhere in the district,” argued Saad.

Saad added that he didn’t want to push this issue onto a new council.

According to a staff report to council, this exact practice was put in place but stopped in the mid 1990s. Reasons, including difficulty in administering and creating uncertainty in revenue as well as abuse by property owners,  were cited for putting a stop to the practice.

Chief Administrative Officer Terry Melcer explained that if this change in the bylaw were to be implemented, other residents in the area would pay the price.

“The current rates are arrived at based on our current cost of delivering water to all of those connections,” said Melcer. “If we were to pull out various properties that are sitting vacant, then the effect of that is the total cost of operating the system is spread out amongst less users and therefore those current users would have to see some adjustment to their current billing in order to pay for that self-funding utility because there’s no other place to get that money from. It’s not supported through tax dollars.”

Director of Engineering Danny Dwyer commented that although the district is currently metered, there are “leaks” in the system.

“The community for all residential connections is 100 per cent metered … We do have leaks in our system we are striving to rectify and the meter helped to identify that issue. We’re able to measure all the water that’s pumped and virtually all the water that is consumed so we know where our losses are so we’re getting that system repaired then we’ll be bringing forward a plan to implement a metered billing system,” said Dwyer.

Barbara Nunes, director of finance, also explained that there is more to billing than just usage on the part of residents.

 

“Part of the issue is the perception that just because a house isn’t receiving a service that there isn’t a cost,” said Nunes. “There is actually a significant cost for water, sewer or garbage whether a person is receiving it or not because we still have to maintain the overall system behind-the-scenes.”