Pemberton water rates set for 2014 

PNWS to be charged more as negotiations over disputed balance continue

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As negotiations continue with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) over a disputed outstanding balance for the Pemberton North Water Service (PNWS), the Village of Pemberton has approved new water rates that rise slightly for property owners within the boundary.

However, council has endorsed a rate structure that will be significantly more expensive for PNWS users compared to a recommended alternative.

Under the new rate structure, single-family residences and apartments inside the village boundary will pay a flat rate of $383.36 for water service in 2014. That is up from the $342.99 charged per unit in 2013.

The full rate schedule for all property types was included in the agenda package of a special council meeting held Thursday, June 19, when the rates were officially adopted.

During the meeting, council also updated the village's Water Termination Bylaw to reflect the total amount it is trying to recover from the SLRD, stemming from a dispute over the PNWS rate going back to 2007. That amount now totals $516,096, and rises to more than $978,000 after interest and penalties are applied.

The SLRD, which purchases water in bulk from the village for more than 150 connections on the PNWS, has consistently reimbursed the village at 52 cents per cubic metre. However, the village had been requesting double that amount between 2007 and 2013, creating the outstanding amount in dispute.

However, no official agreement on the PNWS rate exists between the village and SLRD, and Area C director Susie Gimse has criticized "unacceptable, unilateral actions undertaken by the village" in determining what to bill the service. Currently, PNWS users pay around $1,600 annually after water charges and frontage taxes.

The termination bylaw has reached third reading and, if adopted, would give the village the right to shut off water for PNWS users after one year.

At last week's meeting, a previous third reading was rescinded and re-read with an updated balance, which chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland described as a "housekeeping matter."

However, SLRD Area C director Susie Gimse questioned why the village would re-read the bylaw, and set higher rates for PNWS users, as negotiations over the dispute continue. The two sides have been trying to reach a settlement behind closed doors for some time, and both have recently expressed their desires to get a deal done.

"Considering the current state of the PNWS negotiations, I do question the purpose of advancing the termination bylaw and water rates bylaw incorporating (a structure with higher fees for PNWS users) at this time," Gimse said in an email.

Earlier this year, the village received a Water Rate Implementation report from Kerr Wood Leidal (KWL) to help determine appropriate rate structures through 2019. The KWL report provided two alternatives — one that achieved "equitable cost distribution among customer classes in the first year of implementation" (Alternative 1), and another that would see outside-boundary users, including the PNWS, "pay significantly more than its fair share" in the first few years of implementation (Alternative 2).

For 2014, Alternative 1 would have set the bulk water cost for the PNWS at 89 cents per cubic metre; Alternative 2 bills at $1.16. Alternative 1 would also implement a more than $80 increase to water bills to residential properties inside the village boundary.

Although KWL recommended Alternative 1, the village is pursuing Alternative 2, and Sailland said that's due to the lack of an agreement over the outstanding PNWS balance.

"Alternative 1... assumes that there is an agreement, and with an agreement, there is a tremendous amount of risk removed from the formula," said Sailland. "In the absence of that agreement... we have to go down the other path of Alternative 2."

Gimse had appeared at the council meeting held June 17 to remind council of the KWL-recommended alternative.

"I'm extremely surprised that council is considering this bylaw at this point and time, when you take into consideration the discussions that have occurred, particularly over the last month," she said at the meeting.

The village could revert to the KWL-recommended Alternative 1 rate structure if a PNWS agreement is reached, but Gimse said that approach would add "another layer of unnecessary confusion."

With negotiations set to continue, Sailland said there is so far no anticipated date to adopt the Water Termination Bylaw.

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