This past March, Pemberton homeowners received water utility bills that were, on average, 65 per cent higher than the previous year. In some cases, domestic water rates nearly doubled. And nine businesses experienced increases of more than 300 per cent.
This caused many residents to speculate the dramatic increases were a municipal cash grab.
Village of Pemberton Clerk-Administrator Bryan Kirk says that the increase was not an act of a government on the verge of bankruptcy, but a necessity in order to repair an aging water system.
"Were doing fine," says Kirk, of the VOPs economic state. "Were right on track financially."
While the VOP realized that the water system needed upgrading, pump failures and the loss of one of the villages two wells moved the issue to the forefront.
"The costs [of repairing the system] could run a couple of hundred thousand dollars," says Kirk.
To illustrate the high cost of this work, Kirk said that an ill-fated exercise to "shock the well" into producing water cost $15,000.
Director of Finance Cecile Arnott says that the water rates increases were in line with what home and business owners in other communities around the province are paying.
"Some have enjoyed a bit of a holiday as per the bylaw," says Arnott.
The current water costs to taxpayers living in single-family homes is $23 per month for water and $32 per month for sewage. The bills for the nine businesses experiencing the highest increases have been adjusted to reflect proportional increase parity with residential users.
The VOP has also recently undertaken a study on implementing water meters. The metered system would give a more complete picture as to actual water consumption and could result in lower utility bills.
"I think we would start to see more conservation," says Arnott, citing a positive effect of metering.
"Its the only utility that we have that is not regularly metered," adds Kirk.
The costs of implementing such a system will be determined after the feasibility study is completed.
However, Kirk did say that the cost was estimated to be $80,000 when an initial investigation into installing water meters was completed eight years ago. The population in Pemberton has nearly tripled since then, he added.
The study, which will provide council with a cost/benefit analysis of water metering, is due this fall. At this time there are no definite plans regarding a forum for public input.
Currently, the VOP is waiting to hear from the provincial government about a grant application to replace the lost well. Unless funding comes through before the end of June, the immediate concern will be managing the limited water supply this summer.
"I would suggest that with one well this summer that well be looking at water restrictions," says Kirk.
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