Serving Dorchester, Belmont, Thorndale, Thamesford, Putnam, Crampton, Avon, Harrietsville-Mossley and surrounding area
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MAJOR WIN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: Dorchester resident Pawel Kucharski and his daughters Mila (left) and Anya get ready to pick up trash during Saturday morning’s Mill Pond Clean Up. Organizer Ruth John was thrilled with the excellent turnout. More than 30 volunteers showed up just after 9 a.m.

Residents concerned about

rising cost of water bills

by Wendy Spence

        Water, wastewater and sewer rates and fees continue to be a topic of conversation in Thames Centre. Residents who are on the system received an insert with their water bills to notify them of changes in rates.
        “I think they’re too high,” said longtime resident, Sue Stephens. “I realize only a certain number of homes are hooked up to the sewer.” When Sue and her husband Bill moved into their newly built Woodvale Drive home in the summer of 2002, their first water bill, which included filling up their pool and watering newly planted sod, was more than $1,000. “That was just a shocker,” recalled Bill. Some neighbours installed sand point wells in an attempt to lower the cost, but it wasn’t possible to do that on their property. The couple has stopped using their irrigation system to avoid getting $500 bills.
        The total on their most recent bimonthly bill (for January and February) is $241, which includes $65 in water usage. The sewer charge is almost $145, lifecycle charge almost $22 and the stormwater lifecycle charge is $10. “Dorchester is a very attractive place to live,” said Bill. The couple hopes to live here for the long-term and enjoy their retirement in the community. “When the municipality goes on (the sewer system), it would be nice for the people who have been paying for 16 or 17 years to have a break.”
        Ward 2 Councillor Chris Patterson has expressed his opinion about water-related rates since he was voted in in the fall. Residents told him about their concerns while he was on the campaign trail. “They don’t mind paying for water,” he said. “They know it’s an important resource. It’s the accelerated amount.” Patterson said costs have gone up 100 per cent, possibly 120 per cent from what they were six or seven years ago. The increases hit close to home. His parents recently retired. “It’s just the two of them there and they’re spending $150 to $200 a month.” Patterson said the cost is a concern for people on fixed incomes. “It’s a problem for them when their pensions only go up one or two per cent according to the Consumer Price Index and the water goes up 20 per cent or 10 per cent; how do you budget?” He discovered that some parents tell their kids to have a shower at the arena after sports activities because they can’t afford for them to shower too often at home. Snowbirds who are gone for six months get charged anyway. “We’re trying to promote conservation, don’t use water, then we put this minimum in, so people say, well I’m going to use the minimum.” Patterson said many people don’t use the minimum. The Ward 2 councillor explained that, according to legislation, the municipality has to charge exactly what the service costs. “I just want to make sure that we’re charging what it costs for the water and wastewater coverage. We know what it costs to operate the water, and we know what it costs to operate the wastewater.”
        Some residents have an issue with the price they pay for outgoing water. “We don’t have the ability to measure wastewater so they do it as a percentage of whatever water you use,” Patterson said.
        Before the bylaw of tariffs and fees was passed, he was hoping to keep the rate increase at one or two per cent, not the 10 per cent for water and 20 per cent for wastewater. “I think part of the cost structure they charge is the cost to replace it (infrastructure).” Patterson believes that most residents don’t mind contributing to the savings to replace the capital investment. “The question is, how much do you save?” he said. “If you put it in simple terms, if you have a house, are you saving enough to replace your house? Most people aren’t. They’re saving enough to replace the roof, saving to replace the furnace 10 to 15 years from now. We’re funding our future generations. The community wanted me to bring forward that concern, so I did.”
        Patterson said that studies are being done to determine what the assets in Thames Centre are, how much it will cost to replace them and how we are going to fund them – paying now, saving a portion of it or perhaps leveraging it against some federal and provincial dollars 20 years from now. He explained that stormwater had traditionally been a general tax. Initially, developers pay for the system, then the municipality has to fix it and replace it. The stormwater lifecycle fee is to fund that, making it a user pay system. “The stormwater fee is a tool that the province has allowed us to use.”
        Since the Watson and Associates study was completed in 2015, there has been an annual 10 per cent increase to water rates and 20 per cent for wastewater. A proposed wastewater lifecycle charge has been deferred until a rate study is done. “One of the solutions is to increase revenue without adding costs to the fees,” said Patterson. With the wastewater treatment plant expansion and addition of a new pumping station, more users will be added to the system. The study will help determine how many homes are going to be on the system in the next 10 years and rates will be adjusted to reflect that number.
        Director of environmental services Carlos Reyes said that a pamphlet outlining rates is included in water bills every year. “We’re working on doing our best to keep the municipal drinking water system safe.”
        He explained that this year, the water rate increased by the consumer price index and the pricing structure is the same as in previous years with an increase in the water component. Council approved a flat $10 bimonthly stormwater fee for all properties connected to municipal water so the municipality can start collecting money to go towards the replacement of sewers over the next 50 years as needed. “We just want to be proactive,” Reyes said. “This is something most municipalities are doing now.” Some of the local sewers were installed in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A number of studies are being completed; including a stormwater condition assessment and inventory and a wastewater condition assessment and inventory study. The Water and Wastewater Master Plan will also be updated.
        Reyes advises residents to check for leaks at their homes on a monthly basis. “Sometimes people don’t realize that leaks cost them money.”

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