100% Variable

Friday, April 17, 2015   by: Bill Walton

The struggle to find an equitable billing rate for water can be very simply solved: make it 100% variable.


The residential metering program was the result of trying to make the billing more equitable; not a system based on the number of taps or outlets in a dwelling. Many millions of dollars were spent and it now appears while our water will have a degree of equitable payment for use it will really be no better than it was under the flat rate system. The struggle to find a ratio between fixed and variable cost is as fruitless as the struggle between councillors for and against any percentage.


Back in antiquity, someone decided the municipality must charge enough for water (including distribution and sewage costs) to cover the cost of operating the “water” system. There must have been a reason for this but it escapes me now. Why not cover the costs of this city operation the same way we cover the costs of roads, storm sewers, fire department, policing  or recreation? Put the cost in the general levy and be done with it. That will be as equitable as any solution that the city hall bean counters can devise with their meters.


The beauty of putting the total costs in the general levy is that now the city could levy a charge for the water they actually supply us - say five or fifty cents a cubic meter - whatever it costs for the sixty-five per cent of the water that goes through the pumping station on Trout Lake and ends up passing through a meter to either a commercial or residential user. This “profit” on water sales would also be applied to the general levy, reflecting by adding and subtracting the cost of running a water system that wastes or looses 35% of its water through leakage, blow-offs, whatever.


Between the Engineers and the Accountants (using a slide rule and an abacus) they should be able to establish an initial rate for a cubic meter of water and in a couple of years have the exact cost to charge someone for using Trout Lake to wash their car or water their lawn, not to mention flush their toilet and take a ten-minute shower. Instead of being revenue neutral as was the old ideal, the water system might just become a true user-pay system.


City residents who are attached to the water system will have paid for the service on their property tax bill and would now pay only for the actual amount of water they use. No longer will they feel abused by paying 106% of the water costs for sewage / disposal for water they sprinkled on their lawn or children or used to fill their swimming pool. No longer will they be paying sewage for water used in cooking that goes up in steam or water used to wash their truck, make a ice skating rink or test their outboard motors. No longer would there be adjustments for commercial users who use water for air conditioning or in the production of goods.


Of course we would have to have someone watching those rascals at City Hall so they did not set rates that would make a “profit” on water that they could shuffle around to other pet projects, not that they would do that anyway, but you know what I mean.


On the other hand we might have some entrepreneur who will deliver fresh water to your residential storage cistern for a price less than the city charges. Or others who would offer to drill a well on your property so you could pump your own water. Getting off the grid, returning to nature. Just saying.


Let us make the water meters work for us so we can see a reward for conserving water. 100% variable billing may be the way to go.

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