A sewer manhole cover in Smithers. Council voted unanimously to increase water and sewer user rates by 10 per cent each year in 2020, 2021 and 2022 at their Oct. 8 meeting. The decision comes after an asset management presentation highlighted to council large future expenses for replacing water and sewer pipes. (File photo)

Council hikes water and sewer user rates 10 per cent annually until 2022

The increase amounts to $51 in residential property owners’ annual fees in 2020

It is official, if you live in Smithers your water and sewer fees are about to increase significantly.

The rise in cost won’t be stopping any time soon, either.

Council voted unanimously to increase water and sewer user rates by 10 per cent each year in 2020, 2021 and 2022 at their Oct. 8 meeting.

READ MORE: Water and sewer rates will increase by 10 per cent

The decision comes after an asset management presentation highlighted to council large future expenses for replacing water and sewer pipes.

That includes, for example, just over $22 million in water infrastructure costs in 2037 and well over $60 million in total costs over the next 30 years.

Council said the staggered increase in user rates will help to offset those costs, with Director of Finance Leslie Ford noting the user rate increases were in line with recommendations made by the consultant who did the asset management plan.

Acting Mayor Frank Wray noted he felt the increase could have been slightly higher, but added he felt the figure was pretty good.

“I thought 25 per cent a year was a little onerous.”

Wray noted he was happy to support the increase knowing future rates could be increased if council recognized a need for it in the future.

“I think it’s a good balance between not hammering the taxpayer too much and recognizing that we do need to collect more money,” he said.

The new bylaws for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 rates should be finalized by the end of December.

This increase will amount to a combined increase of $51 in residential property owners’ annual fees in 2020, $56 in 2021 and $62 in 2022.

READ MORE: Telkwa rolls back water/sewer rate hike

Mayor Taylor Bachrach previously told The Interior News the asset management plan found the Town’s existing cast iron water mains, typically installed in the 1950s and 1960s, are at the end of their service life cycle and should be replaced in the very near future.

“We’re going to have some really big expenses when it comes to replacing water and sewer pipes in the town,” Bachrach said before council voted unanimously to increase water and sewer user rates by 10 per cent for 2019 at their March 26 meeting.

“The idea here is to build up a bit of a nest egg so that we have funds that we can leverage to obtain other grants and hopefully piece together a plan that doesn’t see massive tax increases down the road.”

Bachrach later posted on Facebook with more information about the rate increases, noting even the grant and user rate increase combined won’t be enough to address future infrastructure costs.

“Funding these replacements is going to take a combination of Town funds from fees, [federal or provincial] grants and long-term borrowing. None of these sources by itself is going to be sufficient to meet the need,” the post read.

“The Town’s user fees for water and sewer have done a decent job of covering operation and minor repair of our pipes over the years, but they have not accounted for long-term replacement.

What we’ve been lacking until now is a detailed overview of long-term costs, and now that we have that detailed assessment, we know the magnitude of the gap.”

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