Halifax Regional Water Commission (HRWC) has submitted a proposal to the Utility and Review Board (UARB) for substantial rate increases for business and residential customers.

Objective:

RCC will advocate against such action to the UARB as it places an unfair and unsubstantiated increase on retailers, particularly those located outside the downtown core.

Background:

The Halifax Regional Water Commission (HRWC)’s latest proposed rate hikes were submitted to the Utility and Review Board on January 9, 2013.  If approved, overall rates would increase by 11.2 per cent on July 1, 2013 and 16.7 per cent on April 1, 2014.  Businesses (small and large) will feel the impact as these rate increases will also include separate stormwater rates.  For big businesses, institutions and industrial-scale water users, the rate increases could end up costing these water users hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
HRWC estimates its total debt servicing will increase from $22.9 million in 2012/2013 to $28.6 million in 2014/15.

The application also proposes to increase wastewater charges by approximately 23 per cent and storm water rates by 10 per cent.

Storm Water rates:
Retail Council of Canada has expressed particular concern regarding HRWC’s proposed new method of calculating wastewater charges. Wastewater and storm water services are currently combined and users pay for the service based on consumption.  Under the proposed system, the storm water service component will be separated from wastewater service.

Residents will pay a flat rate for storm water services.

Businesses will pay the storm water rate based on the square footage of impermeable surface they have on their properties (e.g. asphalted parking lot).  HRWC argues that this change will bring increased fairness to the system, as businesses with such impermeable surfaces place a heavier burden on storm sewers.  HRWC argues that these businesses produce much more runoff than a business property with a gravel surface or bare ground.
The proposed billing change for stormwater services would occur in two parts:

Right of Way Charge: This charge from the Halifax Regional Water Commission pays for business property owners to connect to the storm water service.  Right of way charge: $0.171 per square metre.

Site-Generated Charge: This charge will measure the amount of impervious area on a property that cannot absorb storm water runoff (e.g. paved parking lots).  Site generated charge: $0.115 per square metre of impermeable surface.
Vacant or undeveloped land would not be subject to the site-generated charge.

Wastewater: It should be noted that under the proposed changes, wastewater rates would still be based on consumption.

Deferred Maintenance: Halifax Regional Water Commission is increasing rates in an attempt to combat a significant infrastructure deficit.  This infrastructure deficit was created over years of neglect, when the water system fell under the purview of the municipal government.  Due to years of neglect and deferred maintenance, the city is still using a significant number of century-old pipes that have not been properly maintained/replaced. Repairs and upgrades will be required over the next 30 years at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. HRM, along with other Canadian municipalities is pressing Ottawa for a new $50-billion infrastructure-renewal deal over 20 years.

Next Steps:

Retail Council of Canada has been arguing that HRWC is unfairly targeting large retailers in its efforts to pay for years of shortsighted decisions to defer maintenance on the municipality’s water system.  While most of the water system’s pipes that need replacing are located in the downtown core of HRM, most retailers with large parking areas are located in relatively new business parks.  These business parks generally have stormwater systems that are up to date.  Decisions made by the municipality drove large retailers out of the downtown core many years ago and yet HRWC is attempting to force retailers to pay more than their share to fix aging infrastructure in the downtown core.  This is not a user pay system.

RCC will submit its written argument to the UARB by the March 12, 2013 deadline.
The UARB hearing will take place on April 15, 2013.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Jim Cormier at:  [email protected] or (902) 422-4144