Mayor Joe Fontana’s promise of a tax freeze is starting to thaw out, as city council voted on Monday to approve an increase in rates for both water and sewage bills. The increase, with water rates jumping by eight per cent and sewer rates by seven per cent, was approved narrowly by a vote of eight to six. The increase will amount to an average extra cost of $24 on water bills and $31 on sewer bills.
“The province has mandated the city have sustainable water and wastewater operations. Council developed a 20-year plan which commenced in 1997 to move toward sustainability,” Jodi Baechler, councillor for Ward 5, explained. “We presently have a $400 million debt in water and wastewater infrastructure as a result of previous councils not setting aside replacement costs for infrastructure.”
The 20-year plan includes a decrease in total billed water consumption. Baechler noted the decision was one that would prove wise in the long run.
“If we continue to defer replacement of aging infrastructure, the costs will be much greater for the next generation,” she said. “The money will be used for replacement of existing aging infrastructure, installing new infrastructure for new development, et cetera.”
Not every member of the council thought it was necessary to raise the rates. “I voted against it because I campaigned on [a tax freeze]. I’ve been elected twice with the platform that I was not in favour of raising rates,” Stephen Orser, councillor for Ward 4, said. However, Harold Usher, councillor for Ward 12, said the rate increase was a separate issue from Mayor Fontana’s tax freeze.
“We decided last year that water and sewer rates would have to be increased this year,” Usher explained. “We have maintenance and repairs for that water, and it costs money to do that.”
John Braam, director of water and London city engineer, explained the main purpose of the increase was to replace the infrastructure in order to provide proper water service.
“The operations costs, with the exception of utility costs, have remained at near zero for the last three years. We expect to have increases applied until […] we have enough funding available to replace the infrastructure at the time when it is required,” Braam said.
Erin Cleland, a second-year student in the faculty of information and media studies, said she was surprised by the news of the increase. “That really sucks, because it’s already so expensive,” she said, noting the increase would make her more conscientious about her water usage. Cleland also added she would make utility-inclusive rents a higher priority when looking for a house.