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Abbotsford to examine zero per cent utility fee increase for 2012

A zero per cent increase in utility rates will be examined by city council next week.

Coun. John Smith recommended the move following a  staff report presented on Monday which asked for a 10 per cent increase to sewer and water rates and a 2.3 per cent increase to solid waste (garbage/recycling) fees.

“If you add this 10 per cent, which is the preliminary budget, to the 12.7 per cent last year, you have a 23 per cent increase over two years,” said Smith.

He said it was too much to ask of taxpayers.

Many councillors agreed and asked staff to prepare a new report for next Monday’s meeting.

The original report suggested increases which would have seen the average single-family residence in Abbotsford pay a combined $875 a year for water, sewer and solid waste removal in 2012. That’s an increase of $65 compared to the 2011 average cost of $810.

Much of the proposed 10 per cent increase was to help replenish the city’s water capital reserve fund to save for a future water source.

A total of $9.3 million has been budgeted this year to go towards capital.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said saving for the future is important, but this year it might be “nice to give everybody a breather” until there is a future water source plan in place.

“We can say enough is enough while we figure out what it is (a future water source). And, in the meantime, we’re going to cut you some slack and allow you to take a breather from the massive increases we’ve had in the last decade,” said Banman.

The Abbotsford/Mission Water and Sewer Commission has begun discussions regarding a new water source which could alter the five-year plan. The review could take months. As a result, the report has been delivered to both councils with the understanding that it could be revised further.

In addition, Abbotsford is also examining its tiered water rate system, which could also affect future costs.

Some of the utility capital projects to be completed this year include water main replacement. In 2012, $2.3 million will be spent to replace aging infrastructure. The city estimates it will need to spend $36 million on mains over the next 10 years.

An additional $100,000 will be spent on a water treatment study for Cannell Lake.

“There are new rules from Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health around treating the water from Cannell Lake ... I think it’s the chlorination that’s never totally happened so there’s some money that we’ve had to put aside so we can treat that water,” explained Pizzuto.

The project cost estimate is $10 million by 2014.

However, that may change, depending on any decisions made on a future water source.

Smith said it is still possible to complete these projects without raising rates.

“We may find we can cut some expenses, some of those administration expenses ... I’m talking about a whole bunch of stuff, anything that comes under the category of expenses. I want to see them take a magnifying glass to it ... I believe there are a lot of efficiencies to be had,” said Smith.

Council has received the report and will hold a public information session on Feb. 15 from 7-9 p.m. at the Clearbrook Library.

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