Storm water rate consultation at city hall a drizzle compared to flood of attendance in rural areas

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By Jennifer McIntosh, Ottawa Community News

Residents trickled into the city’s public consultation meeting on new options for the city’s stormwater, water and wastewater rates at city hall on March 30.

The city’s proposed changes to water rates haven’t drawn much ire from residents in the core, said Capital Coun. and environment committee chair David Chernushenko.

“People may not like the change, but they can live with it,” he said.

While the city’s proposals include tweaks to the water rate, many residents have taken issue with the new stormwater fees.

A meeting held in West Carleton the day before was standing room only, and 50 people were turned away because there wasn’t room at the West Carleton Community Complex.

Dixon Weir, general manager of environmental services, said residents hooked up to the city’s water have been subsidizing the work on ditches and culverts, which are primarily located in rural areas.

That’s one of the reasons that the proposed rate restructure would include added fees for rural residents on well and septic.

Rural residents would be on the hook for $2 million for stormwater management.

The city’s total stormwater management annual budget is $42 million, with $8.4 million allocated to the rural area.

Currently, the wastewater and stormwater fee is combined into the sewer rate, which is only funded by people connected to city pipes.

Stormwater fee would fund rural ditches, culverts, city says

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Rural residents need to look beyond their own neighbourhoods to see where major stormwater investments are helping manage rainfall and snowmelt in their communities, city officials say.

“They drive on the main roads, which have ditches and which have culverts, and that’s what this is covering,” city treasurer Marian Simulik said Thursday. “It’s the work on those bigger roads with the bigger culverts and the bigger ditches. This is not their own individual property.”

Simulik joined environmental services general manager Dixon Weir and environment chair David Chernushenko in defending the proposed stormwater fee that could be charged to landowners who don’t receive water bills, such as residents with private wells and septic services. The city wants to change the revenue structure because there’s no correlation between the amount of water consumed and the amount of precipitation running into storm sewers and ditches.

Chernushenko, the councillor for Capital ward, used his own example of living in Old Ottawa South and paying for services across the city, not just for what’s in front of his house.

“My key message is, nobody is being charged for something they don’t get,” Chernushenko said. “But the flip side of that would be, isn’t it fair that people do get charged for something they do get, and in this case, not even the full rate?”

Of the $42 million spent on stormwater services annually across the city, $8 million goes to the rural areas.

Pockets of the rural area are already contributing $1.4 million annually to the stormwater program because they are hooked into city services, and thus paying water bills. The city plans to collect $2 million more in stormwater revenue from properties currently not paying into the stormwater program. The city emphasized the money still wouldn’t cover the costs for stormwater services in rural Ottawa.

“It’s a pretty good deal,” Chernushenko said.

Unhooked homeowners will face a stormwater fee

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Property owners on private well and septic services will pay for stormwater management if council approves changes to how the city collects revenue for water and sewers, prompting councillors to brace for a backlash.

“I’ve prepared staff that it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be smooth,” Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt said Tuesday.

City staff will hold seven community consultation sessions over three weeks on proposed changes to funding water, sewer and stormwater services.

The stormwater program, which includes culverts, catch basins, storm sewers and stormwater ponds, has been funded by people who pay water and sewer bills. That means people whose properties aren’t connected to municipal water and sewer services haven’t been paying for the stormwater program, even though money is spent across the city to manage rainfall and snowmelt.

The net stormwater operating budget for 2016 is $42 million.

The Ottawa transition board at amalgamation decided to build the stormwater costs into the sewer rates, rather than keeping them as part of property taxes. Now, the city is faced with dwindling rate revenue to pay for infrastructure maintenance.

Moffatt, chair of council’s agriculture and rural affairs committee, said many residents who could be forced to pay a new stormwater fee on their tax bills will simply see it as a new city tax. The issue has been on Moffatt’s radar for a year and he has been preparing residents through his newsletter and website.

“I’ve been just trying to educate on the background,” Moffatt said. “What it comes down to is, what is the cost? What does it mean for residents?”

Osgoode Coun. George Darouze wants to make sure residents on private services understand that the city isn’t putting water meters on their wells, which is apparently a big misconception. Darouze emphasized that the proposed stormwater fee doesn’t just apply to rural properties, since there are urban properties also affected.

Input sought on changes to water bills, fees for stormwater

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How the city’s stormwater costs are divvied up among property owners is subject to the consultation.

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The city has announced consultations on a new water bill structure, which could include a base fee.

Not enough money is coming into the coffers through water bills to pay for water, waste water and stormwater programs, so the city needs to find a new method to bill customers and feed the $316-million budget for the services.

Properties that receive water bills currently pay for the amount of water they use. The waste water and stormwater fee is charged at 117 per cent of the water consumption. The problem is, as water consumption shrinks, so does the revenue, but maintenance and staff expenses remain.

The city proposes to have a fixed cost on each water bill and the amount would depend on the size of the water meter. Another part of the bill would be tied to consumption, where high-volume users pay higher rates.

More than 45,000 properties are without water meters because they’re on private well and septic systems. That means they aren’t paying for infrastructure to handle stormwater run-off.

The city proposes to charge all residents and businesses a stormwater fee, but how the city’s stormwater costs are divvied up among property owners is subject to the consultation. For example, everyone could pay the same fee or the fee could be based on the property assessment. For residential properties, the fee could also depend on the type of home.

The consultations will happen between March 21 and April 7. The dates, times and locations are listed on the city’s website, along with more information about the proposed changes.

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