City moves forward with new utility bill

·4 min read

The City of Grande Prairie council is moving forward with its next step in creating a stormwater utility.

City council has directed administration to proceed with an impervious surface area model that would see residents receiving a utility bill for stormwater based on a measurement of impermeable surface area on their property, such as roofing and driveways.

The hard surfaces result in runoff into the stormwater system.

Still, the city will also be exploring the idea of a potential credit system for residents with properties that reduce sediments and contaminants in the stormwater system.

“I think having utility model makes sure that (we) and future councils have adequate funding that is properly segmented to make sure we're funding this system properly,” coun. Dylan Bressey.

“We're seeing more flooding in our province and our area than we have in the past; this is a way that we can incentivize and financially reward people if they take steps to return stormwater on their property that helps us all mitigate our flooding risks.”

He admitted that his own home has many low assessments and roofs, which under the proposed model would see him pay more than his neighbours.

“That's actually fair because I'm using a lot of stormwater system service compared to people that are (may be currently) paying more taxes than me,” he said.

Rory Tarant, city communications and marketing manager, said that over the next four months administration will be developing the system in its entirety. He noted council will have an opportunity to make changes and review the model as it is developed.

“There'll be an opportunity for council to further refine it, but as of right now, it's based on impervious area for apartment buildings and commercial properties,” said Tarant.

“How it would be done on the residential level is looking at the building footprints and having a tiered system based on the size of a building.”

City administration will now move to create bylaws and policies for the utility and hope to present them to council next May or June, said Tarant.

The utility would be launched on July 1: Residents would have a six-month notice of assessment period where they can apply for credits, challenge assessments and ask questions.

Bills are expected to arrive in January 2024.

Previously stormwater infrastructure was funded through municipal taxes and provincial grants.

The utility would give the appearance of a lower municipal tax bill come tax time.

“When the city’s taxes are compared to other jurisdictions, many municipalities appear to have lower tax rates because some of their services are paid for through user-fee model,” said the city.

“Shifting stormwater funding to a utility model to lower our municipal tax rates would allow for a fairer comparison amongst other jurisdictions.”

The city spends approximately $2.3 million annually on its stormwater systems operations and maintenance, including cleaning catch basins, storm drains, and outfalls.

“There'll be an assessment done on every single lot in terms of how much impervious surface area is there and will be charged on that.”

The city began public engagement on storm utility models in May 2022.

Concerns from the public included the impact on non-profits such as churches and schools, as well as an increase in the utility cost instead of municipal taxes.

Peace Wapiti School Division (PWPSD) chair Dana McIntosh told city council the division receives its funds through the province and believes no additional funding would come for the utility bill.

“Our understanding is that this fee is estimated to be approximately $45,000, and essentially, PWPSD would need to fund this by reducing services to students in the classroom in order to finance this new utility.”

Tarant explained at the Infrastructure and Economic Development Committee meeting on Aug. 30 that in January council will make exemption decisions.

“The intent once we have the model, fully built up and all the numbers crunched and have a system in place, then it becomes quite easy to play with some of those modifiers whether we put caps on, (or) whether there's exemptions for certain properties,” said Tarant.

“We need the model fully built out and robust and the systems in place, and once that's there, it can be done.”

There were 92 respondents to a survey that was part of the public engagement strategy, with 50 per cent in favour of moving forward with a user-fee-based model, 39 per cent not in favour, and 11 per cent indicating other.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News