Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
Projected increases to the newly structured stormwater fee have some rural politicians livid, with one councillor fearing the city duped residents into settling for the so-called rain tax.
Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, who heads council’s rural affairs committee, couldn’t mask his frustration during an environment committee meeting on Tuesday as staff presented their proposed 10-year financial plan for water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
The plan calls for annual increases to the stormwater fee between 10 per cent and 13 per cent through 2027.
The city went through a painful process last year to convince residents who aren’t on municipal water and sewer services that they need to pay a stormwater fee, since only those who received water and sewer bills were actually paying for the city’s stormwater infrastructure program.
Moffatt recoiled at the latest staff plan to hike the stormwater fee by substantial rates starting in 2018.
“It presents as though the stormwater fee will be increased significantly over the next 10 years and I feel that’s not what we said last year,” Moffatt said after the environment committee meeting.
It’s “disingenuous” that the city sold a new stormwater fee to residents in 2016 and then came back in 2017 with a report that recommends expanding the stormwater budget, Moffatt said.
Moffatt seemed equally disheartened that no one at city hall apparently gave him a heads up about the proposed increases, especially since he worked hard during the consultations on the highly controversial stormwater fee and rate review in 2016.
“Why would you leave someone out? I would never do that to my colleagues,” Moffatt said. “I would never blind-side my colleagues on anything.”
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, the chair of the environment committee, said residents and councillors would have known that future financial plans would impact the stormwater fee.
“I don’t believe residents were at all hoodwinked, misled, lied to. No shell games here,” Chernushenko said. “I know our staff made it very clear, and I made a point of insisting that we make it clear, that what we were talking about during the rate review was how we allocate who pays what portion.”
The amount the city needs to pay for stormwater services is something that would be considered on an annual basis through budgets and a long-range financial plan, Chernushenko said.
So, why do some councillors seem puzzled by the proposed stormwater increases?
“All I can read out of this is that there’s a perception out there in some minds of some members of the public that they were told one thing and they’re seeing something different and that some councillors are having to explain that or defend it or show that they’re sticking up for residents,” Chernushenko said.
Increases to the stormwater fee could once again galvanize the rural councillors.
Osgoode Coun. George Darouze is ready for a battle.
“We’re not going to allow that to happen,” Darouze said. “We’re going to fight very hard to make sure we defeat that vote.”
It wasn’t until a resident mentioned the proposed stormwater fee increases to Moffatt at the Richmond Fair that the councillor learned what the city was proposing.
“There was a story in the Ottawa Citizen. A resident read it and came to me at the fair and said, ‘Why is the stormwater fee doubling over the next 10 years?’,” Moffatt said. “(I said) that’s not happening, that’s not what we’re doing.”
It turned out to be true.
Moffatt is challenging the city to prove why it needs to collect $134.9 million in revenue from stormwater fees by 2027, compared to the $50.3 million it’s expecting to collect in 2018.
The city says it needs the money to keep its assets in a state of good repair. All the financial requirements are in line with the city’s comprehensive asset management program, staff say.
The environment committee decided against taking a vote, choosing instead to punt the report to council next week.
Included in the report is a proposal to increase water and sewer bills in each of the next 10 years. The drinking water rate is poised to increase between two and four per cent annually, while the sewer rate is projected to increase between three and five per cent annually.