Water and sewer rate increase now in effect
Tim Brody - Editor
Effective March 1, water and sewer rates have now increased in Sioux Lookout and Hudson.
Municipal council made the decision to move ahead with the rate increase at their Feb. 17 regular meeting.
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout informed, “The increase is well below the rate of inflation over the last six years. According to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator, inflation was 11.18 per cent. That’s nearly three times higher than the 4.1 per cent increase coming into effect on March 1st.
“Unmetered water rates for residents of Hudson will see an increase of five per cent. The monthly flat rate will change from $62.33 to $65.45, or $3.12 per month. The existing Water Treatment Plant Fee of $19.97 per month, specifically allocated to the long-term debt payments associated with the construction of the Hudson Water Treatment Plant, will remain unchanged.”
Based on an average monthly household water use of 14m³, the increase will amount to about $4.78 per month.
The new Sioux Lookout residential rates for residents connected to the Municipal drinking water and sanitary sewer systems are:
$42.35 – flat monthly water rate (from $40.33)
$38.09 – flat monthly sewer rate (from $36.87)
$1.54/m³ – metered water rate (from $1.47/m³)
$1.38/m³ – metered sewer rate (from $1.34/m³)
Residents of Sioux Lookout will see the new rates take effect on their March utilities (water/sewer) invoices.
“The new water and sewer rates were approved by Council in February 2020, but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Council decided to put them on hold,” said Municipal Chief Administrative Officer Michelle Larose. She added, “The Municipality has several major infrastructure projects starting this year, which are funded by these user fees.”
According to the Municipality, “These projects include expanding the wastewater treatment plan, construction of a third central treatment unit, upgrades to the pumps and forcemain at the Pelican Park Lift Station, and replacing WWII-era watermains and sewermains. Some sections are in poor condition and could fail unexpectedly if not replaced soon. This is in addition to the usual assessments and maintenance work that is required on a regular basis to ensure safe and reliable service to residents.”
“We know nobody likes rate increases,” said Municipal Treasurer Carly Collins. “But we’ve worked hard to keep our metered water and sewer rates the lowest in Northwestern Ontario. As many residents will know, provincial legislation requires that municipal drinking water and sanitary sewer systems must be funded by those who use such systems, and are not intended to be supported through the tax base.”
Larose shared, “Our staff have done a fantastic job of keeping our costs low and finding ways to save money,” adding that, “Ensuring our residents have safe and reliable access to water and sewer service while maintaining high standards and keeping costs low is not an easy job.”
In a recorded vote at the Feb. 17 regular meeting of council, Councillors Joyce Timpson and Connor Howie voted against increasing rates. Councillors John Bath, Joe Cassidy, Don Fenelon, Cory Lago and Mayor Doug Lawrance voted in favour of the increase.
At the Feb. 17 regular council meeting, councillors shard their rationales for why they would be voting the way they did.
“I feel that raising rates at this time is not a good idea,” said Councillor Timpson. “This is really going to hurt the businesses that are struggling and restaurants where they use a lot of water and people who have lost their jobs.”
Councillor Lago stated, “I think we need to learn to live with what’s going on. We need to start moving forward. At the onset of this, we made a decision as council to stop the rate hike. It’s time that we start moving forward. I hope to see a light at the end of this COVID tunnel.”
Councillor Howie commented, “I support staying this and holding it off, understanding that we aren’t out of the woods yet and our reasoning initially for this was exactly COVID-19. We’re not clear of that yet. So I do support and echo Councillor Timpson’s motion that we should hold off on this until we do actually see a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Councillor Bath said, “I certainly appreciate what people are saying about that. You can’t just keep holding off. COVID’s here. It’s going to be a way of life. A third wave, maybe there’s a fourth wave. I don’t think it’s going away for a long time. I agree with Councillor Lago on that. I think we need to move forward. If we keep holding back and waiting and waiting and waiting, we’re going to be in the hole so far in debt at the end of it all.”
Councillor Fenelon said, “I agree with everybody else and their thoughts too. It’s time to start looking at the future and trying to move ahead. I don’t think you’re ever going be free of debt, but take the debt down to a better, manageable and give us the reserves that we can in case something does happen.”
“I also agree with Councillors Lago and Bath that we did postpone it, but is there a third wave, is there a fourth wave, when does it end? We do need to learn to live with this,” said Councillor Cassidy. “The infrastructure deficit that we have is not going anywhere. We need to accept that…. If we just keep putting this off because there’s another wave or another variant, I understand and I think there’s other factors at play that are having a more drastic impact on small businesses than water and sewer rates, I respect that it is a factor, but it’s a factor that we will either have to do it now a little bit, or we’ll have to do it down the road a more drastic increase to cover these infrastructure projects. So I think we need to own this and go forward with this and spread it out over a longer duration.”
Mayor Lawrance shared, “I think that clean water is one of the most undervalued commodities that we have. We have it in spades and it costs us 1.2 cents roughly depending on your consumption, it’s about one to 1.25 cents per litre of delivered clean water to your home and for that price, we’ll also come take all your waste away too. Realizing that the cost of delivering utility services in remote locations, northern locations like Sioux Lookout is more expensive, depth of burying pipes and freezing conditions in the winter, the rugged nature of the terrain the pipes are installed in makes our capital projects higher and makes the cost of water higher eventually. But it’s still, I think, a good deal and I agree it’s time to move forward with this rate increase.”