Cumberland wants to merge water utilities for Parrsboro, Pugwash and Springhill

·2 min read
Currently, the three water utilities operate separately. The municipality wants to merge them.  (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)
Currently, the three water utilities operate separately. The municipality wants to merge them. (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)

Some people in the Municipality of Cumberland, N.S., could be paying 20 per cent more for water next year if a proposed merger goes ahead.

The municipality wants to combine the water utilities of Parrsboro, Pugwash and Springhill into one utility, and applied for a rate increase for that one utility.

Currently, the water services are all managed separately and keep accounting records separately. They file these records to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

"It makes sense from an administrative and maintenance point of view to combine the municipalities," said Cumberland CAO Gregg Herrett.

"The rates are different in Pugwash, Springhill and Parrsboro and eventually we want to come to the same rate."

Herrett says the rate increase will help pay for improvements to these water services. In Parrsboro and Springhill, the original water systems date to the late 1800s.

Herrett estimated that for Pugwash bills could go up 19 per cent, and for Springhill it could be more than 20 per cent.

These communities use different rate structures. Although Parrsboro homes are metered, billing is done using a tap count. It's the last municipality in Nova Scotia to use a tap count system.

Pugwash uses a metered system, which was updated in 2020.

But Springhill only has some meters and many residents pay a flat rate for water. This will change with merging the systems. Because of these different systems, if the rate increase is approved it will affect each community by a different percentage.

'Unfair to the community'

Sutton McKay is a landlord who owns apartments in Springhill and Parrsboro. He says he and other residents will not be happy with the increase.

"I think it's unfair to the community and to the taxpayers and to low income families" said McKay.

McKay believes improvements to the water system should come at the expense of the municipality and the province, and not out of a rate increase.

The municipality's most recent water rate study showed the water utility services have a surplus of $2.2 million.

McKay does not see the logic in combining the different water services.

"They're completely different communities. The water mains are definitely not connected, so to share them just doesn't make sense. It only makes sense from the Cumberland County accounting and bookkeeping perspective."

The Municipality of Cumberland has submitted its proposed water rates to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2 at the Springhill administrative centre.