Water rate charges need overhaul, says Ottawa city staff

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CBC News

The average water bill for Ottawa homeowners is expected to be $852 this year — about $150 more than it was three years ago.

Ottawa city staff are asking councillors to approve a review of how the city charges for water, saying the current system is unsustainable.

Water rates have been increasing at an average rate of six and a half per cent per year to help pay for upgrades to the city's aging water and sewage system.

In 2012 the average household paid a total of $701 a year for water usage, the sewer surcharge and fire supply fees. In 2015 that number is expected to be about $852.

The bulk of that cost is based on water usage. Even the sewer surcharge is calculated as a percentage — 117 per cent — of the water usage bill.

Costs reliable, but revenue isn't: Chernushenko

City staff say that creates a dilemma — since in recent years revenues have dropped as people in the city have been using less water.

So staff are asking councillors for permission, and guidance, to come up with a new rate structure.

Most large municipalities in Ontario have already switched to a fixed fee component, plus an amount based on how much water residents consume.

Another consideration of the review is the fee to handle stormwater, for example the run-off from driveways. Staff say one possible option is linking the stormwater charge to the size of a property.

Councillor David Chernushenko, the chair of the environment committee, says he supports the review.

"Because of declining levels of water consumption and quite unpredictable levels there isn't a reliable source of revenue to pay for the reliable system that the city wants, people want and, in fact, the city is legally obliged to provide," he said.

If approved, the review would include public consultations in the fall, and be finished by April of next year.