Alix village council passed a new utilities bylaw after a regional water commission notified them its original “no change to water rates” budget was being changed to a “water rates are changing” budget.
The utilities bylaw passed all readings at the Jan. 5 regular meeting of council.
Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Michelle White presented councillors with a new utilities bylaw after notification from the Hwy. #12/21 Water Commission stated their 2022 budget sent to council a few weeks ago was no longer accurate.
“At the Dec. 1 council meeting a draft 2022 budget from Hwy. #12/21 was included on the agenda for council review and comment as is required by the water commission's bylaws,” stated White in her report.
“According to that draft budget the per cubic metre water rate was proposed to go from the current $3.055 to $3.049.
Council accepted the report as information and did not forward any questions or comments to the commission.
“On Dec. 3 staff received an email from the commission manager stating the following: After the construction meetings this week it became apparent that the lines will be delayed and this will result in a loss of water sales. The impact to the water rate will see it rise to $3.146 per cubic metre. I apologize for this late but unavoidable change. Long delivery of some critical equipment is the cause.”
The CAO stated the council had two options: keep the utility bylaw as-is and eat the difference when the commission water bill shows up, or approve a new utility bylaw with the higher rates.
Mayor Rob Fehr, who attended a water commission board meeting in December, stated he wasn’t happy. “I don’t feel this was really rolled out in a very professional fashion, in my opinion,” said the mayor.
Fehr stated at the board meeting he found it difficult to get answers about the increase, felt “a bit ambushed” by the rate hike, didn’t get an opportunity to discuss the issue and perhaps felt there was nothing the village could do about the hike, although he was “not impressed” with the process.
Coun. Tim Besuijen, who was also at the December commission meeting, stated the dollar value of the hike is one thing he understands yet isn’t happy with, but he was more concerned that the council already approved the water commission's budget then was told a new one is coming.
Besuijen stated communication seems to be an issue and at the meeting he was also concerned to hear a comment to the effect the commission doesn’t have to get permission from local councils which apparently is accurate.
Besuijen stated the commission has a new manager and perhaps that will help communication.
The CAO pointed out the Hwy. #12/21 Water Commission will soon begin examining their five-year business plan and hopefully communication with municipalities will be included.
Fehr stated it’s embarrassing to now tell residents their water bills will be going up after all.
Coun. Barb Gilliat agreed stating, “It’s the principle of the thing”.
Later in the meeting Fehr submitted his report from the water commission meeting and said, “...pretty dismayed at how the entire meeting went.” The mayor stated that when he asked questions about the new commission budget the answers he got were “vague” and the attitude of the commission seemed “dismissive.”
As well, Fehr noted it seemed to him the atmosphere of the board meeting was tense which he stated wasn’t necessary as he only wanted to be prepared when Alix taxpayers asked him questions about the price hike.
Councillors accepted Fehr's report for information.
During discussion the CAO stated it would be best not to change the village budget right now in case more changes come from the water commission.
Instead, councillors unanimously passed all readings of a new utility bylaw which included the increased rates.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review