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New White Rock water rate structure could mean increase in some bills

Phased-in consumption-based approach seeks to avoid extreme impacts, encourage conservation
White Rock council has acted to make changes in the the water rate structure to more accurately reflect consumption by classes of users – and also encourage water conservation.(Unsplash photo)

White Rock council has opted for a restructuring of water fees in the city to reflect actual consumption by customers.

At its June 28 regular online meeting, council voted unanimously to adopt the new structure, which will also bring water fees more in line with the average amount charged in other Lower Mainland communities, while aligning fees with water utility costs, and actively promoting water conservation.

The downside, particularly for multi-family buildings and commercial properties, could be some significant increases in the annual water bill, for some accounts, over a three-year phase-in period, according to staff calculations based on usage staying the same as in 2020.

As explained in a report from financial services director Colleen Ponzini, delivered to council by financial services manager Janene Brierley-Green, in the option chosen – also recommended by the Water Community Advisory Panel (WCAP) – each account will be charged a fixed fee based on the size of the water meter installed, plus a fixed-rate charge for water actually consumed by each user.

Fees will be higher for larger meters, typically installed in multi-family buildings and commercial properties.

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“The city’s current water rate structure was inherited from Epcor, when the city acquired the water utility,” Brierley-Green said. “It includes a fixed fee, with a certain amount of water consumption included within the fixed fee, and an excess consumption charge if customers use more than what’s included.”

But that has led to some inequities, she pointed out.

“Because the fixed fee includes some water consumption, some customers are paying for water that they don’t use. In 2020 approximately 22 per cent of customers did not use all of the included consumption in any of the four quarterly billing periods. And in the winter months, when people use less water, approximately 46 per cent of the customers didn’t use the consumption included in the fixed fee.”

Coun. Helen Fathers said council had realized some years ago that these inequities existed in the system, and predicted that addressing them will likely make residents of multi-family developments unhappy.

“The single families (households) are obviously picking up the lion’s share of the water bill as opposed to the multi-families,” she said.

“(But) I do believe the (water bill) should be based on water consumption, and currently it’s not – it’s subsidized by the single families.”

In phasing in a new approach – some two years in development by staff and WCAP – Brierley-Green said the intention was to “smooth out the impact for those customers having larger bills with the new structure.”

The greatest impact, according to calculations cited by Ponzini, will likely be felt by the city’s 241 multi-family residence accounts, in which 44 per cent of buildings could see the overall bill rise by up to $500 per year, 13 per cent could see an increase of between $600 and $1,000 and nine per cent could see the bill go up by more that $1,000. An estimated 34 per cent of accounts, however, would see the annual bill remain the same or decrease.

For the city’s 262 commercial property accounts, an estimated 67 per cent of users would see the annual bill stay the same or decrease; while 18 per cent could see an increase of up to $500, seven per cent could see increases of between $600 and $1,000, and eight per cent might see an annual increase of more than $1,000.

Best outlook is for the city’s 4,031 single-family residence accounts, of which an estimated 77 per cent would see their water bill stay the same or decrease, with 15 per cent increasing by approximately $100. In eight per cent of cases, however, the bill could rise by between $200 and $500, although less than one per cent would see a hike of more than $500.

The alternative approach, ultimately rejected by council, was similar, but would have based the fixed fee on the costs of administering invoices, including meter reading. According to calculations presented by Ponzini this approach would have increased the percentages of multi-family and commercial accounts that could be expected to have a higher bill.

In setting the rate for the option adopted, Brierley-Green said, the city investigated water rates established in neighbouring cities and municipalities, including Surrey, Richmond, West Vancouver, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Vancouver.

“We settled on generating 15 per cent of the water utility revenue through the fixed fees, to keep them comparable with our neighbouring municipalities,” she said.

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