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City hikes utility rates 6.5 per cent

New Westminster residents can expect their utility bills to balloon by 6.5 per cent in 2014.

On Monday, Council approved in principle next year's budgets for its electrical, water, sewer and garbage collection/recycling utilities.  The average bill for a single family household is expected to jump from $2,250 in 2013 to nearly $2,400 in 2014.

Coun. Bill Harper said New Westminster is at the mercy of suppliers such as BC Hydro and Metro Vancouver in determining how much to charge. He pointed out some of the rates had to go up by 12 per cent in recent years.

"Where is this all going to end for the taxpayer? We try to keep our taxes as low as possible, but if you look at it, our utility rates skyrocket. How much is New Westminster contributing to the increase, two to three per cent?" said Harper. "People think we're setting these rates when we're not."

The sewer rate is rising the most, 8.5 per cent, because Metro Vancouver is charging more to pay for rising costs for treatment and capital investment in infrastructure, according to a report to council. New West will be using $8 million of its $19 million in revenue to fund sewer rehabilitation and separation in 2014.

The city has budgeted $8 million of its sewer budget for capital projects including setting aside money to pay for the long-term replacement of its aging sewer infrastructure. That includes a long-term commitment  to separate storm and sanitary sewers. Utilities manager Catalin Dobrescu told council the city is allocating about $1.5 million a year toward the project which pays for less than two kilometres of pipe. New West, he said, still has about 140 km to go.

He added sewer separation must also proceed on the private side and more must be done to entice property owners to separate the sewers on their property. Currently only new construction and homeowners who do more than $100,000 over five years are required to separate their lines. That has led to growth areas like Queensborough and Victoria Hill getting new mains and updated pump stations, but getting the rest of the city involved is a tough sell.

"It is a jurisdictional conundrum, I know, but there is a movement within the province and region to passing legislation to entice residents and business owners to separate," said Dobrescu.

Water rates will go up six per cent, about $24 a household. That will bring in about $10 million in revenue with $6 million to buy water from Metro Vancouver.

"We require significant capital investment in the region which results in increased costs in the Metro Vancouver region," said Dobrescu.

Another $3 million will go toward capital projects for replacing and adding to the utility's infrastructure. In 2013, the city is expected to replacing aging watermains and install new zone meters.

"We're improving infrastructure but it's still a challenge," said Dobrescu.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said although sewer and water are costly utilities, and there is a need to replace infrastructure, the federal and provincial government have to come to the table instead of downloading the costs onto municipalities. So he'd like to see the city hold some money back.

"I'm a little concerned about [New Westminster] accelerating the capital reserves," said Puchmayr. "I would like to see us reduce the capital reserves until we get an idea of what's coming from the senior levels of government. We might get something that would alleviate some of those costs in a year."

Electrical rates are to increase an average of seven per cent to pay for the electricity supplied to the city's utility by BC Hydro and debt repayment for New Westminster substation upgrades.

Most of the 2014 capital budget of $12 million will go toward completing the upgrades. It also includes seed funding for the city's WiFi, intelligent city and district energy initiatives.

In contrast to the other utilities, garbage and recycling rates will rise just one per cent, an average of $2 a household. Solid waste and recycling supervisor Kristian Davis said a big increase isn't needed because new recycling programs introduced in recent years are up and running.

 

 

BOX

Utility rates for an average single family household

Electrical    Water    Sewer    Solid Waste    Total

Current 2013    $1,105    $404    $518    $223    $2,250

Proposed 2014    $1,182    $428    $562    $225    $2,397

% increase    7.0    6.0    8.5    1.0    6.5

– City of New Westminster report Nov. 18

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