Water rate structure needs fixing

Resident raises concerns about the cost of water in Greater Vernon

It was sad to read in your Oct. 26 paper about a presentation made to Vernon council by Annette Sharkey outlining how the face of poverty is shifting such that more seniors and families are becoming homeless.

This confirms reports in earlier articles published in The Morning Star that food banks and the Upper Room Mission are finding demand for their services rising especially amongst seniors and families with children.

The reasons given in the article for this happening largely applies to all communities in the province:  income assistance rates and minimum wage jobs don’t provide enough to cover rent and food, non-profit agencies having limited financial resources to operate and provide programs, etc. These are things that cannot be solved at a local government level. The best we can do is to try and alleviate their impact upon our most needy by supporting our local charities as best we can.

However, the reason for this letter is to point out a local reason that is, I believe, unique to Greater Vernon that makes it even harder for our impoverished people to cope. I raise this because, as a local issue, it is something we can and should do something about.

Great Vernon has pioneered a new way to charge for water. Our politicians have decided that only half of the cost of water will be covered by user fees and the other half will be covered by fixed fees. This means that every water ratepayer bears half of the cost of the waterworks whether they are wealthy or poor, and regardless of how little or how much  water they use. You can confirm this by referencing your quarterly utility invoice. All of us residential ratepayers have been billed at least a $7 water meter renewal fee (higher if your line is >26 MM) and a residential water infrastructure base fee of $95.

I think  it is shockingly unfair that a senior eking out a small pension or a minimum wage earner should be billed the same fixed fee as a wealthy ratepayer. I think our water rate structure needs to be recalculated to make it less onerous on the poor. The $102 quarterly fixed fee is more than $400 per annum. That is a crushing burden for a low income ratepayer but means little to a wealthy one. I think it is a morally reprehensible way to charge for something that is as essential as water.

As well, our water rates have been set at more than a cost recovery/maintenance level that is the norm elsewhere. The profit shows up as a huge surplus in the Greater Vernon Water annual reports. Well, I guess that’s one way to do what you want regardless of a defeated water referendum. It may be legal but … enough said.

Surely, our politicians are capable of coming up with a way to pay for water without squeezing our most needy ratepayers for more than $400 a year for not a single drop of water. It shames me to think that I voted for some of these people.

It saddens me that our elected officials pioneered such a regressive way to pay for a commodity absolutely essential to life. You do not need to be an owner to get whacked either. It shows up in your rent one way or another.

I think we need to get in line with other cities (as we used to be not so long ago) and use a water billing structure that is cost recovery based and that is much less regressive. It shames me that this has happened. It is something that should have never happened. It needs fixing. The sooner the better.

Jim Bodkin