Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Editorial: Borrowing Change

Costs for infrastructure and service from Salt Spring’s largest water utility have steadily climbed in recent years.

But the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) board and staff have at the same time sought ways to stem the rising-cost flow. 

Without access to federal-provincial infrastructure grants, owners of the NSSWD’s 2,100-plus properties have had to foot the entire $8.4-million bill for constructing a water treatment plant for St. Mary Lake, which was completed in 2018. They will do the same for a Maxwell Lake plant most recently estimated at more than $10 million that the province says must be built by the end of next year. 

The NSSWD has for years pressed the provincial government to change its policy of not providing infrastructure funding to “improvement districts” like the NSSWD and Salt Spring’s fire protection district. The government has so far not agreed to do so. The NSSWD also explored becoming an entity under the Capital Regional District, which would have qualified them for infrastructure grants, but could not come to an agreement about the details. 

The latest attempt to help ease the pain for ratepayers is by requesting a change to the Local Government Act that would give the NSSWD access to lower-interest provincial lending rates on the millions of dollars it must borrow for the Maxwell plant and the remainder owing on the St. Mary plant. They estimate the change would save NSSWD taxpayers some $4.5 million in interest payments. 

At present, provincial financing is available to improvement districts providing “fire protection or street lighting.” The NSSWD proposal is to add districts that provide “essential domestic and emergency water supply” to that list. Surely water supplies are as critical as fire protection or street lighting services and should be valued in the same way when it comes to reducing the cost to citizens to provide them.

Not making an exception to infrastructure funding rules for large, financially solid improvement districts feels unnecessarily punitive; forcing them to use the private market for borrowing funds to build essential infrastructure the government itself demands be built is downright cruel. 

We urge the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to give serious consideration to the NSSWD request and encourage ratepayers to provide support for change as needed.

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2 COMMENTS

    • Nobody says that it is needed. It says that water supplies are as critical as fire protection or street lighting services and should be valued in the same way when it comes to reducing the cost to citizens, meaning that borrowing funds for water supplies should qualify for the lower provincial interest rates.

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