Water rates may go up in 2009 

A shortfall in the water utility budget spurs the municipality to find long term solutions

It may be time to turn off your water tap, as Whistler water rates could face a price hike next year.

On Monday, municipal staff reported that the water utility has been operating at a loss for several years: Whistler water rates are “artificially” low and do not cover the operating costs of the utility.

“Anyone that has run a small business knows that if your costs are average but your revenue is low, you are not going to be able to sustain that business model for long,” said Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the municipality during Monday’s council meeting.

According to Barnett, while Whistler’s rate per person to operate the utility is on average with other municipalities’, the resort town’s water rates are starkly low. Whistler households pay approximately $87 annually, compared to the Canadian average of $274.

In 2005, Whistler’s water utility shortfall was around $100,000. In 2006, that imbalance rose to $320,000, and last year the water utility operated at a $370,000 loss.

“We expect a continuing trend with a shortfall again this year,” said Barnett.

Higher labour costs, fuel and energy prices, and new operating procedures are some of the main reasons the water utility’s operating costs have increased dramatically.

Barnett said in past years, municipal staff reallocated funds from other areas of the budget to cover these shortfalls. For 2009 however, staff would like to see a long-term solution put in place.

How Whistler will mitigate this shortfall has not been decided yet, but it is likely to come from increased water rates.

“Nothing is defined in the presentation to council, so it has yet to be determined,” said Barnett.

“Having said that, the water utility is a self funded utility, so all the revenue comes from water rates.”

The water utility shortfall was one of 30 items brought to council Monday under a budget amendment bylaw. Other areas included the Lot 1/9 Celebration Space, and solid waste capital.

According to Lisa Landry, only the water utility shortfall could mean a future dip into taxpayer pockets.   Shuffling existing funds internally should cover the other 29 imbalances.

In the report to council, Landry wrote that $163,000 has been reallocated from the revenue sharing reserve to fund the Whistler Celebration Space project.

An extra $30,000 was also needed to complete the landfill closure contract and set-up the ongoing landfill maintenance program. That money has been transferred from the Water Transfer Station project. And $400,000 has been contributed from the ESA Parkland reserve to pay for the methane barrier project at Cheakamus Crossing.

During Monday’s meeting, council told Barnett they would like more information about the water utility budget before they make any final changes to the five-year financial plan.

“I am very concerned about affordability, and I am very concerned about costs,” said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

“Without going through this line by line… this is not ready for prime time. This needs to go back. I think we owe it to our taxpayers to go through this more carefully.”

Council deferred first, second and third reading of the five-year financial plan amendment until municipal staff provide more information on the budget challenges.

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