Eva Eaton has questions after receiving an almost $600 bill from Oak Bay for water and sewage.
“Whatever those charges are that are not the water charges, why couldn’t they be put on to the property taxes?” Eaton asked.
The total was $586.70 for the four-month billing period from July 28 to Nov. 28.
That works out to just over $145 a month for water and sewage. Broken down, $215.76 was her metered water charge for 53578 gallons of water, while $80.99 was the municipal portion of her sewage usage. $224.07 went to the “Sewer-CRD debt,” and another $65.88 was listed as a “basic charge.”
Eaton posted a picture of her bill on the Oak Bay local Facebook group, and it’s gaining significant attention. Many residents shared her queries as to why costs related to the CRD sewage debt are billed as a utility rather than a property tax.
“It’s the sewage charges that are creating confusion among people because is this an annual charge? Is this a charge on every bill? Exactly what are we paying for?” Eaton said. “What are the charges for? It’s not on there and it doesn’t say. Are we paying for the new sewage treatment plant? It’s extremely unclear.”
In Eatons’ case the $224.07 Sewer-CRD debt is paying for the CRD new treatment facilities, says Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch.
“There’s a number of aspects that come into the water bill,” Murdoch said. “There’s our water charge, which is based off of the CRD rate. So there’s a cost per unit for the water. That makes up approximately about a quarter of the bill. There’s a fixed water charge that covers the cost of maintaining the water infrastructure. There’s a municipal sewer charge which is really our way of covering our municipal sewer costs. And then there’s the CRD debt, which refers to really the CRD’s sewer costs – primarily the sewer treatment plant that’s going in. That’s single biggest area of cost is that CRD debt.”
The “basic charge” is the per day, or fixed water charge. What each resident is charged for the sewer debt is related to how much they use the sewage system. In Oak Bay that usage is tied in with your water consumption – residences with only one water meter have 60 per cent of their usage counted towards sewage to reflect gardening, while residences that have both an outdoor and indoor meter only pay sewage for inside water use.
On Dec. 10, Oak Bay council set the 2019 rates for water and sewage. The fixed charge for water increased 4.5 per cent to 52.55 cents per day, while the consumption charge increased 5.25 per cent to $2.6405 per unit. The municipal sewage rate jumped 26.5 per cent to $1.9855 per unit, while the CRD debt rate increased 7 per cent.
Concerns have been raised about why the municipality bills residents for the CRD debt the way it does, with some, including Eaton, thinking it might make more sense to have that portion of the bill transferred to property tax.
“It’s a model that I prefer. I think capital costs, given that they’re not directly related to consumption, make sense to have at least the majority of it on taxes,” Murdoch said. “You can defer those taxes if you’re lower fixed income or elderly. Personally I think if things are capital it’s not really a true user-pay model because it’s a fixed capital cost no matter how much you use it. That’s a debate we’ve had at council, and it’s often been a close vote. I imagine we’ll have a very similar debate coming up here in the new year.”
If no one on council raises the discussion again this year, Murdoch plans to bring it forward himself. In the meantime he encourages residents to email queries or thoughts to municipal hall. He notes that concerns brought forward by citizens make the record when a related business item comes before council.