Utility rates in Trail are expected to jump in 2023 by higher percentages than in recent years as the city tries to get a handle on an infrastructure deficit.
Water rates will rise 8.5 per cent, which works out to another $34 per year for the average household, while sewer rates will go up five per cent (another $13) and garbage and recycling will be up 2.8 per cent (another $4). The latter is to pay for an increased cost in the contract with GFL Environmental for pick-up.
Overall, the increase amounts to another $51 per household, although if paid early residents can get a seven and a half per cent discount.
In real dollars, the revised amounts will be $435 for water, $286 for sewer, and $147 for garbage and recycling, for a total of $868 in utility fees before the discount.
City council gave preliminary approval to those figures this week following a presentation from city manager Colin McClure, who forecast an “infrastructure deficit” around water and sewer services.
“We have a lot of capital projects that will need to be done,” he said in an interview.
“When I look at the revenue we’re collecting versus what we need for operational costs and how much we’re putting into the capital reserve each year, we’re severely underfunded, particularly in the water fund.”
McClure proposed a 10 per cent increase in water rates, but council was concerned about the costs to residents and businesses, and scaled it back to 8.5 per cent, a difference of $7 per household.
“Council was cognizant and concerned with that increase for residents and businesses, but when we looked at where we’re lacking on money available for infrastructure that we need to upgrade, it’s a necessity,” he said.
McClure said whenever they replace a water line, they also want to take a look at sewer lines so they don’t have to be dug up a second time. Among the projects the city has on the books is a sewer and water replacement on Groutage Avenue as part of its Missing Link project to connect the Esplanade to the Columbia River Skywalk.
McClure noted that utility rate increases have been kept very low over the past few years, averaging one per cent between 2018 and 2021, but between inflation and the city’s collective agreement with workers, they were falling behind.
He said part of that may have reflected the city’s efforts during COVID to give residents a break by keeping taxes low, but more investment is required in water and sewer infrastructure.
“I believe we need to get the rate up and have the compounding effect which will help us put money into reserves,” he said.
“More of the increase for me was about trying to start build the reserves so we have capital funding available to be able to do the infrastructure deficit work.”
McClure added he has proposed higher increases for the next five years as well, anticipating projects like a Glenmerry reservoir replacement and work to the Bear Creek well. He said council could instead borrow for those projects and pay them off over longer periods.
The city plans a water master plan update to prioritize its infrastructure projects, McClure said.