BRIDGETOWN, NS - Proposed increases to water rates in Bridgetown aren’t sitting well with some residents who have struck a petition to oppose Annapolis County’s request to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for the rate hikes.
Resident Andrew Gilmour is trying to halt the rate hikes for the next three years and is pushing for legislative changes at the provincial level that would give more flexibility to municipalities in their funding of utilities. Currently water utilities are standalone entities funded by water rates and can’t accumulate deficits.
The county is asking UARB, on behalf the Bridgetown Water Utility, to increase rates in 2018/19 for residential customers with 5/8-inch metres from $130.10 to $144.94 each quarter, a hike of 11.4 per cent. Increases of 6.9 per cent and 6.1 per cent are sought for subsequent years.
For all other metered services, the utility is asking for increases ranging from 12.4 per cent to 13.3 per cent in 2018/19; 7.6 per cent in 2019/20; and 6.8 per cent to 7 per cent in 2020/21.
The annual fire protection charge paid by the county, currently estimated at $197,502 for 2017/18 is proposed to remain the same in 2018/19; decrease to $195,000 (a 1.3 per cent drop) in 2019/20; and to $193,502 (a 0.8 per cent decrease) in 2020/21.
A UARB hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 27 at 11 a.m. at the Bridgetown fire hall at 31 Bay Road in Bridgetown.
Gilmour said the petition is available in numerous locations in Bridgetown and as of June 18 he estimated there were 100 signatures.
“We, the Customers of the Bridgetown Water Utility, respectfully demand that the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board reject the application for all water rate increases for the years 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 made by the Municipality of the County of Annapolis on behalf of the Bridgetown Water Utility,” the petition reads.
The petition also notes the accumulation of previous increases, with consumption rate per cubic metre rising from $0.57 in 2011 to $2.79 in 2020 if the latest proposed increases are approved. That’s an increase of 389.47 per cent in nine years, the petition claims.
It also said that the base charge will have changed from $34.53 in 2011 to $87.86 in 2020, an increase of 139.97 per cent in nine years.
Gilmour said petition organizers will give the petition several more weeks and then start going door to door urging people to attend the hearing and speak to the board.
Board hearings are open to the public and anyone may speak at the hearing if they notify the board by Wednesday, July 25.
People can also make written comments by sending a letter to the board clerk at P.O. Box 1692, Unit “M”, Halifax, NS B3J 3S3, or by email at: email@example.com, or by fax at (902) 424-3919 by July 25.
Gilmour has requested formal standing as an intervenor that would allow him to present evidence or cross-examine witnesses. He hasn’t heard back from UARB whether or not he’s been accepted as an intervenor.
Gilmour said he understands that the county’s and the UARB’s hands are tied in that they are both following regulations already in place. He said in his dealings with the UARB they have been very responsive and cooperative.
But Gilmour said when rates go up, people try to conserve water – which puts the rate up more because less water used means less revenue -- and the utility still has to pay for itself. He said he sees that as a problem with no end going into the future and that’s why he thinks changes need to be made now.
In its notice regarding the county’s application, the UARB noted that upon reviewing the application, it could at its decision, determine that the proposed amendments should be as requested, higher, or lower.
A copy of the application and a timetable applying to the matter may be viewed at the Offices of the Board, Summit Place, 1601 Lower Water Street, 3rd Floor, Halifax, NS or on the board’s website at http://nsuarb.novascotia.ca/, by clicking on “Matters & Evidence”, and in the “Go Directly to Matter” search box, enter Matter Number M08575; and at the Municipality of the County of Annapolis, 752 St. George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
Gilmour said the petition may be signed at the following locations in Bridgetown:
Oman Art Gallery, Mama Sofia’s, V&S, Salvation Army Thrift Store, Wools on the Corner, Pharmasave, C.J. Nob’s, Graves, Hillman Law, End of the Line Pub, Endless Shores Books, and Mountain Lea Lodge and The Meadows.