Proposed utility hike sees rare division in city council
A vote to raise utility rates in Castlegar saw a rare division of city council Monday night, with the hike narrowly defeated in a 3-3 decision.
In his report to council, city director of financial services Andre Buss pointed out the $66 million of infrastructure maintenance required in coming years, and said, “New Interior Health Authority standards require second barrier water protection. As well, significant security system enhancements and vigilant water and sewer system monitoring programs are required and these will add significantly to our maintenance and upgrade costs in the immediate future. Buss also pointed out that city sewer and water services are debt-free …but may not remain so, wihtout careful management of resources in the coming years. “City Council …. should be mindful of our infrastructure requirements when setting rates both now and in the years to come in order to ensure that significant borrowing and unmanageable rate adjustments will not become the reality of the future,” he added. Mayor Lawrence Chernoff and councillors Kirk Duff and Gord Turner voted in favour of the just-under-three-per-cent hike. “It’s my understanding that it’s a slight increase in rates – about $20 overall. Given the fact that we’re facing a $66-million infrastructure situation …I think we have to go this little bit,” said Turner. “At some point, this community will be faced with a huge increase, if we don’t do it a little at a time.” Duff agreed. “I don’t think delaying one year’s worth of increases is the right thing to do.” Councillors Deb McIntosh, Russ Hearne and Kevin Chernoff opposed the hike, arguing the recreation referendum was a clear message that Castlegar taxpayers aren’t prepared to accept any more increases. “The public has said, loudly and clearly, that they can’t take anymore right now. We have to take a step back and give people a little room to breathe,” McIntosh said, adding there are many other cost increases residents have to shoulder right now, and any more might be the straw to break the camel’s back. “The people I’ve talked to are saying, ‘Enough already’,” she added. Kevin Chernoff said he thinks the city needs to work harder at finding inefficiencies in-house to make up the difference. The motion to increase water, sewer and garbage rates was defeated. In related news, council did pass a motion to extend garbage regulations from seasonal to year-round, prhibiting residents from leaving their trash out for collection before 4 a.m. on the day of pick-up. The move is intended to reduce bear attractants, as well as diminish the mess and smell caused by garbages that are left for days at a time or spread around by dogs, raccoons, carrion birds, and the like.