Pemberton utility rates up five per cent 

Province denies second well grant for maxed-out water system

By Cindy Filipenko

Pemberton residents will receive their annual utility bill by the end of this month. However, property owners will not have to relive the horror of last year’s 65 per cent increase. The Village of Pemberton has raised water and sewer rates by five per cent across the board.

Ratepayers will get a break of a 10 per cent discount if they pay their utilities within 30 days of receiving their bill. A five per cent discount will apply to accounts paid between 31 and 60 days of receipt. Bills unpaid as of July 4, 2006 will be subject to a 10 per cent penalty.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the current water system is in peril of not meeting the town’s needs. According to Mayor Jordan Sturdy, on hot summer days the current system is operating close to capacity.

“The preliminary review from our engineer’s estimate is that we are within a couple of years of capacity,” said Dave Allen, director of services for the VOP.

Further compromising the system is the fact that the village has not been able to afford to replace a second well, destroyed during the 2003 flood. In the event that the remaining well breaks down, Pemberton has an estimated 12 to 24 hours of water.

“The bottom line is that we need to get another well as soon as we can get one built,” said Allen. “Ideally you want to have a redundancy in your capacity.”

“Utility fees do not go to pay for infrastructure improvements, they maintain the system that’s in place,” explained Cecille Arnott, VOP director of finance, when asked if the utility rate hike was sufficient to replace the well. “If we were to put on another well, we’d have to borrow and service the debt through a frontage tax.”

She said that to avoid creating a further tax burden; typically, development cost charges are used or grants are sourced to cover the costs of such improvements.

The Village of Pemberton applied for two B.C. Community Water Improvement Program (BCCWIP) grants when the Ministry of Community Services announced the project last year. One grant was to provide the Pemberton Industrial Park with servicing, while a second grant was to fund a comprehensive upgrade of the community’s water supply. On Jan. 16, the VOP received written confirmation that the applications had been refused.

“We don’t understand why we weren’t successful. We will be reapplying and we have every expectation of getting a grant,” said Sturdy.

The mayor added that the village’s engineers were dumbfounded that Pemberton, the province’s fastest growing community, was not deemed a priority.

“There were more applicants than there was money,” said Dave Credo, communications representative for the ministry. “In terms of human and environmental safety, there were water systems in worse shape. There’s a lot of aging infrastructure out there. It’s a numbers game.”

More than 161 local governments submitted 319 applications to the $80 million BCCWIP program, one of the most aggressive provincial infrastructure programs to be tabled in B.C. But now that the money has been spent doesn’t mean non-funded communities are out in the cold. Credo says the provincial government, in partnership with the Union of B.C. Municipalities, is currently negotiating a provincial/federal infrastructure grant program. Credo also cited the Federal Gas Tax as a potential source of funding.

“I’m meeting with our MLA shortly and have spoken with the deputy minister (of Community Services) and he encouraged me to reapply,” said Sturdy.

The three components of the application will be a well, water treatment and looping, which would connect various dead ends to improve water flow.

Although frustrated by not receiving the BCCWIP money to fix the aging system, Sturdy says he understands the position the province is in.

“There are communities in the province that are on permanent boil water advisory,” Sturdy stated. “But you’d think the fastest growing community in B.C. would be a priority.”

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