Metro to jack utility fees 23 per cent

Drinking water and sewer projects drive up regional costs

Sharply rising costs to upgrade Metro Vancouver’s sewer and water system will translate into steadily rising utility fees for the region’s residents.

A new five-year forecast tabled by the regional district shows overall regional levies are expected to climb 23 per cent by 2018, costing the average household nearly $100 more than today.

The average $725,000 home that paid $418 for regional utilities this year will see that rise to $430 next year – a 2.9 per cent increase – and a projected $516 by 2018.

“It’s a little bit disturbing,” White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said of the nearly 25 per cent increase in utility fees over five years, adding that’s far more than the rate of increase of property taxes from most local cities.

“We would be crucified at our end if we were to throw out those numbers,” Baldwin said at a recent meeting of Metro’s finance committee.

Regional water servicing costs are slated to rise from $147 per average household now to $152 in 2014 and reach $189 by 2018, reflecting increases of around eight per cent in the next four years.

Cost drivers include the new Seymour-Capilano Filtration Project, adding ultraviolet drinking water disinfection to the Coquitlam source and building new tunnels beneath the Fraser River to carry drinking water to Surrey.

The sewage system – where rising federal standards are forcing Metro to rebuild two treatment plants  – is pushing sewer levy hikes from $171 now to $216 by 2018.

The sewage cost projection is considered tentative because regional district officials don’t yet know how much of the $1.7-billion-plus price tag for new treatment plants might come from senior governments.

And the regional board is also contemplating changing the formula that apportions sewage upgrade costs across the region – as a result the actual household impact could vary wildly depending on each city’s share.

Although Metro Vancouver has forecast soaring garbage tipping fees – rising from $107 per tonne now to $150 and beyond in the coming years as it builds a new waste-to-energy plant – that’s not expected to bite as deeply at the household level.

The solid waste levy is projected to translate into an increase from $60 per household now to $66 by 2018.

That’s because organic waste collection and other recycling gains are expected to mean households generally will produce less garbage that incurs tipping fees in the years ahead.

The levy for the main regional district budget – which mostly goes to run Metro regional parks and to pay for planning and administration costs – is projected to rise slightly from $40 per household to $45 by 2018.

Some Metro Vancouver directors want the region to look at increasing regional development cost charges, which haven’t changed in several years, as one way of generating more revenue.

And Delta Mayor Lois Jackson questioned why Metro Vancouver still owns the Ashcroft ranch – which it once intended to turn into a new landfill until it was blocked by the province and opposing First Nations.

“We should be getting taxpayers value out of that land,” Jackson said. “We’re not in the business of running ranches. Taxpayers’ dollars are sitting out there.”

Metro officials said the ranch continues to run and is covering its operating costs.

They said the region had been holding off on trying to sell the land due to low real estate prices but will review the decision this fall.

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