Water bills to rise again in Norfolk County

Norfolk County residents already pay through the nose for water — and next year things will get even worse.

Residential water and sewer rates are set to jump 12 per cent on Jan. 1 after council approved the 2024 rate-supported operating budget last month.

That increase will see the monthly water bill for the average home in Norfolk rise from $119.07 to $133.36.

By contrast, the average water bill in Haldimand County this year was $78.55, and $62.74 in Brantford.

With an average monthly bill of $110.01, Brant County was a closer comparable to Norfolk, where residents grapple with among the highest water and sewer rates in the province.

That trend will continue as water rates in Norfolk are projected to rise another 14 per cent in 2025 — the result of having relatively few customers supporting separate sewage and water treatment plants in five urban areas spread over the far-flung rural county.

Council commiserated with residents but said the increase is needed to help the cash-strapped county upgrade its water and sewer infrastructure.

“This budget works towards addressing Norfolk’s critical infrastructure needs … to ensure the water and wastewater systems remain reliable for our residents for years to come,” Mayor Amy Martin said in a statement.

Martin has asked Ottawa and Queen’s Park to turn on the taps by committing hundreds of millions in infrastructure dollars to a plan to pipe drinking water from one giant water treatment plant in Nanticoke to all corners of Norfolk.

Such a centralized system would be more efficient, allow stalled development projects to proceed and reduce costs for consumers. But even if money is forthcoming from senior levels of government, that plan is years away.

In the meantime, recognizing more rate hikes will “put serious strain on affordability for residents,” county staff pledged look into other ways to lower residents’ water bills while patching and upgrading existing water treatment facilities. Efforts already underway include a hunt for leaky pipes that cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted water.

But a staff report to council during budget talks did not promise miracles.

“Given the lack of infrastructure funding available to reduce the debt burden on the county, difficult decisions will be required,” the report read.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator