Column: October 6, 2016

An Update on the Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Rate Review

Earlier this year, residents were informed of the City of Ottawa’s Water, Sewer and Stormwater Rate Structure Review. At that time several public consultations were held – which were well attended and at which City staff received a lot of constructive input from the residents. This led to the delay of the report so that comments received could be properly reviewed.  Since then, staff worked with members of Council on finalizing the report and its recommendations. This report, which was released on Monday, October 3, will be presented to the Environment Committee on Tuesday, October 18.

The history on this issue is important and stems from amalgamation. Prior to amalgamation, residents contributed to stormwater management. Some paid for it through their general taxes, some through a specific stormwater rate and others as part of their sewer bill. The transition board overseeing the implementation of the amalgamated City of Ottawa commissioned a report which provided recommendations on how an amalgamated city could assess properties for stormwater costs. That report recommended cost collection through either the general tax rate or a specific fee charged as a line item on your tax bill. In April of 2001 however, Council instead voted to shift all stormwater costs to the water and sewer rate. This meant that some residents who used to pay for it no longer did and it also meant that residents who had always been paying for it started paying more.  For fifteen years, that is the system the City has been using.
 
The consultations held in the spring laid out proposals to move away from that system and create a new rate structure where those who receive a service pay for it. The main objective was to collect $42M across the City through a new stormwater fee, shifting those costs away from the water and sewer rate budget. The feedback on that proposal was met with much opposition, which brings us to the proposal before us today.
 
The financial details of the proposed rate structure are highlighted in the graphic shown at the bottom of this page. It illustrates a tiered approach in assessing properties for stormwater management. The tiers are based on level of service provided. For villages on water and sewer in communities like Carp, you will only notice a change in how your bill is presented. There will be a reduction in your bill on an average of $2 per month. For property owners on private services, the proposed monthly fee would be $1 for 2017, $2 for 2018, $3 for 2019 and $4 for 2020. The report proposes a phasing in of the charge over four years, meaning you would not pay the full $4 amount until 2020. This is something that would be paid annually on your tax bill (agricultural and forested lands will be exempt).  
 
I think it is important to point out that the total amount collected rurally through this updated charge will be $2M, which will go directly toward the $8M which is actually spent per year on rural stormwater services. This indicates that rural residents, while contributing towards stormwater services, will still be receiving more services than what they are actually paying for. This proposal certainly isn’t perfect, but it is a step forward from what was originally proposed when introduced last spring.
 
This report has been released a week earlier than normal so that residents can have an opportunity to digest the information. If you would like to address the Environment Committee on October 18 and provide your input, you may register to speak by contacting the Committee Coordinator: Christopher Zwierzchowski, Christopher.Zwierzchowski@ottawa.ca, 613-580-2424 x21359.
 
Note:  Pre-amalgamation, when all residents contributed toward stormwater services, many were permitted to fill in their ditch provided it did not impede drainage. That permission was removed in 2003. As a result of what we heard at the consultation sessions last spring, the report going to the Environment Committee on October 18 will recommend a review of the Ditch Alteration Policy with a view to develop a process to, once again, permit the infilling of ditches. This policy review will come to Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee in 2017.