By David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — Ottawa's water and sewer rates are to rise six per cent this year, with the unanimous approval of city council's environment committee Tuesday afternoon.
Committee members spent nearly two hours building the financial case for the increase — the first step in a 10-year, $2.1-billion plan for a remake of the city's water and sewer systems, which along the way will increase Ottawans' water and sewer rates 73 per cent, to over id="mce_marker",000 per household per year.
Capital Councillor David Chernushenko, for instance, observed that his ward had a significant water main break Tuesday on Hawthorne Avenue near Colonel By Drive. How much does a water main break cost? he asked.
It's hard to say, responded Dixon Weir, the city's general manager of environmental services, which includes water and sewers. Fixing a break costs $8,000 to id="mce_marker"2,000, but the "collateral damage" is impossible to calculate, especially when the break is on a commercial street, like one on Elgin Street a few weeks ago.
"So it's pay now, or pay more later," Chernushenko said, a sentiment echoed word for word by committee chair Maria McRae after the unanimous vote.
"As a council, we have a chance to support infrastructure that's going to work for generations," the River councillor said. And indeed, the $2.1-billion plan includes measures to cut sewage overflows into the Ottawa River and to replace kilometres of pipes that have been quietly working, and slowly deteriorating, for decades. The city plans to borrow $460 million in addition to id="mce_marker".6 billion pulled from users' bills, and will still have $600 million worth of work yet to do at the end of a decade.
Alta Vista Councillor Peter Hume worried that the short-term rate hikes might not be sharp enough, because the plan also calls for draining the city's water and sewer reserve accounts to almost nothing in the next couple of years, so that as much work as possible can be done before downtown construction work begins on the planned light-rail system. What happens if something unexpected happens and a pipe fails long before it's supposed to, as happened to a major water main under Woodroffe Avenue a year ago? he asked.
Treasurer Marian Simulik said the reserves should be refilled to a safe level by 2016, but if something catastrophic happens between now and then the city could either borrow to cover the cost or postpone some projects to free up money. That would be a bit risky, she acknowledged.
"Yes, every time you defer maintenance, you are increasing the risk that that infrastructure will fail in a big way in the future," she said in response to a question from Hume.
In the end, Hume, like the eight other committee members, voted for the plan. They also approved a proposal to start putting together multi-year budgets to anticipate specific capital construction projects and the funding they'll need well in advance. The committee also agreed to a request from Councillor Shad Qadri to review some of the 75 contracts the city has with businesses to let them dump waste into the sewer system. They pay fees but, for historical reasons, not the same amounts, and the committee wants the charges harmonized.
The immediate increase for water users — taking the average household water bill from about $636 a year to about $668 — takes effect almost right away, if council approves it in a vote Wednesday.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
|< Previous||Next >|