Municipal water, wastewater rates increasing
Tim Brody - Editor
Water and wastewater rates in the Municipality of Sioux Lookout are on the rise.
At the March 16 regular meeting of Municipal Council, council authorized the passing of By-law No. 19-22, Being a By-law to Establish the Water and Wastewater Service Rates and Charges for the Production, Treatment, Storage and Distribution of Water and/or Wastewater in the Municipality of Sioux Lookout and to Repeal By-law No. 15-21.
Staff had requested approval to implement the new rates commencing April 1st, 2022 and to implement the second increase on April 1st, 2023.
Municipal Treasurer Carly Collins shared in her written report to council, “On October 20th, 2021, Council approved the Municipality’s Water and Sewer System Financial Plan as part of the Municipality’s requirement under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
“While the SDWA does not give a clear definition of what is considered to be sustainable, the Municipality has always interpreted a sustainable system to mean a water and sewer system that is financially self sufficient, through the levy of user fees and charges.
“Additionally, the financial plans were developed with the understanding that the Sustainable Water and Sewer System Act (SWSSA) will come into force, requiring municipalities to assess the “full costs” of operating and maintaining its water and sanitary sewer system.
“The financial plans were prepared using a preliminary rate study and analysis which determined that the water and sewer rates would need to increase.”
Water rates will increase by 3.6 percent in 2022 and 3.8 percent in 2023. Wastewater rates will increase by 4.6 percent in 2022 and 4.5 percent in 2023.
Collins also shared in her report that, “The increase in rates for 2022 and 2023 are necessary to fund the current capital, operating, and maintenance costs associated with the provision of water and sanitary sewer services.
“As future projects are completed, a rate analysis will be conducted to determine if the rate that is proposed in the Financial Plan after 2023 should remain as recommended or change. At this time, the Government has not released any additional large source of funding for capital infrastructure costs.”
The Municipality’s Water and Sewer System Financial Plan proposes increases to water and wastewater rates through to 2031.
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout further shared that, “The Water and Sewer infrastructure requirements will be reassessed in 2023 to determine if the planned increase for 2024 will proceed as currently anticipated, or if it will be changed, based on the evolving infrastructure needs.”
Breaking down the increases to water and wastewater rates for 2022 and 2023, the Municipality shared that the rates are compounded, “For example, someone who’s typical Utilities bill is $100 per month in 2021, would see an increase in 2022 of 8.2% (3.6% for water and 4.6% for sewer), or an increase of $8.20, bringing the monthly total to $108.20. In 2023, the rate increase would take the 2022 rate (108.20/month) and it would increase by 8.3% (3.8% for water and 4.5% for sewer), or an increase of $8.98, bringing the monthly bill to $117.18.”
Councillor Joyce Timpson said she could not support a rate increase at this time, commenting, “I feel that this is not the time to be raising our water rates. The price of oil is going up. The price of food is going up and this is just going to add to people’s hardship post pandemic. I think we should put this off for a while.”
Councillor John Bath supported the increase stating, “We’re increasing it very slightly now. That’s the proper way to do it.”
Councillor Don Fenelon also supported the increase. He stated, “Pipes and stuff like that underground is going to start hurting us coming in maybe four, five, 10 years, but still, we’ve got to keep improving it and keep moving on with it.”
Councillor Cory Lago commented, “I like the fact that it’s only for the next two years and it will be reassessed again. Hopefully by then we will see some funding coming in from the government to cover the big bill of the new CTU for the wastewater.” He added, “I understand Councillor Timpson’s concerns. I have the same concerns… the cost of living is spiraling out of control for everyone, but these are things we need to do here.”
Councillor Connor Howie said, “I echo much of what Councillor Lago said… I have shared many of the same thoughts as Councillor Timpson. This is definitely a season of hardship, a season of inflation, a season of increased costs due to the political climate in our world. But also, at the same time we do have to continue with the progress locally and hopefully, fingers crossed, we will see something, promises made, even in this coming election cycle.”
Councillor Joe Cassidy commented, “I do agree with a lot of what Councillor Lago said as well. I think a small, incremental approach to this is the right way. It sets us up in a better position after two years if we need to reassess, maybe we pause for a year or something if there is funding available. It’s setting us up for success, but it gives us the flexibility to change and adapt if we need to.”
Asked about the new CTU mentioned by Councillor Lago, the Municipality explained, “The CTU is one of many required water/sewer infrastructure upgrades that will be undertaken in the next few years. The Combined Treatment Unit (CTU) performs a few tasks: in ours, the activated sludge is added, the liquid is aerated and the center of the unit primarily functions a settlement unit that removes sludge but also floating material – this is a very basic explanation, but provides an indication of its function: essentially, it is a key part of the wastewater treatment process. Given ongoing development within the community, we need to ensure sufficient capacity at the wastewater treatment plant, and the addition of a third CTU will facilitate this objective. The CTU project is roughly estimated to cost five million dollars.”
The Municipality further shared, “Other water/wastewater upgrades will include Pelican Booster Station, Bigwood Lake Development (providing increased water capacity to the Airport and sewer and water upgrades for the future development in that area), the Hillcrest will result additional demands on capacity as it comes on line, and the Mascotto’s lift station will be upgraded to improve wet well capacity. Front and Third will have Sewer and Water upgrades next year, to name but a few.”