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$20,000 in costs every time Abbotsford sends new bi-monthly water bills

It will cost the city $20,000 every time it sends out new bi-monthly bills for water and sewer services, beginning in September.

That has Coun. John Smith questioning whether the billing could be reduced to once every four months, saving $60,000 annually.

On Monday, council approved the new billing format, originally discussed in November.

In the past, Abbotsford homeowners received an annual bill for water and sewer, as part of their tax notices. Now that the city has installed new remote read water meters, usage can be monitored on a daily basis, making it easier to bill more frequently and quickly detect costly water leaks.

The transition to the new system will result in a higher water bill on this year’s tax notice, in order to collect outstanding amounts.

Water usage is tracked from April to March, and a bill is sent in July, resulting in homeowners paying for consumption which occurred as much as 15 months earlier. In order to bring bills up to date, residents will get a bill for water consumed for the past 15 months, rather than the normal 12.

Sewer charges are calculated from January to December. The 2011 tax notice will bill for six months of sewer rates (rather than 12) to keep current. Sewer charges are based on a percentage of water use.

Starting in September, bi-monthly bills will be issued for the past two months of use.

The estimated annual water/sewer bill for the average Abbotsford home is $578 per year. That would rise for the first year only, to $825 in 2011, bringing accounts up to date.

In order to help people with the transition, no late payment fees will be charged during the first year for residential homes, and for two years on commercial properties.

While most of council agreed frequent billing will make people more aware of water usage – therefore promoting water conservation – Coun. John Smith argued that bi-monthly was too extreme.

Council was told billing costs approximately $20,000 each time they are sent out, prompting Smith to suggest a change from two months, to every four months, to save $60,000.

Mayor George Peary said the new system, in addition to promoting conservation and detecting leaks, also helps create cash flow.

“As it stands now, we supply water for 15 months before getting paid for it,” he said.

More changes could be made as staff will report on the possibility of seasonal rates for water and the inclusion of garbage fees on the new bills.

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