North Salt Spring Waterworks District is looking ahead at climbing costs related to its infrastructure needs, with increases to parcel taxes and the capital construction surcharge coming to ratepayers in 2018.
A long-awaited construction project for a new water treatment plant on St. Mary Lake is now underway and ahead of schedule, thanks in part to October’s good weather. The district’s board of trustees is still working out how to finance its needs without over-burdening its client base, however, since improvement districts are not eligible for the provincial grants that municipal-based water infrastructure projects receive.
As the district’s November newsletter released this week explains, “the NSSWD is larger and more complex than all other water systems on Salt Spring Island combined, serving an estimated year-round population of 5,500, which is greater than 87 of the 102 municipalities in B.C.”
The 2,087 properties currently on the district’s parcel tax roll must fund all projects and operating costs by themselves. There is no mechanism for cost sharing with islanders living outside the district, or tourists and visitors who create an additional demand on the water supply.
With long-term debt repayment for the new plant scheduled to begin in 2018, the base unit Capital Construction Surcharge on parcel tax invoices will increase to $280 next year. As well, parcel tax rates will increase by 2.5 per cent. The newsletter reports the district will continue to phase in increases to commercial class rates over the next three years. A review of toll rates and miscellaneous charges will be done in 2018 before making any further rate changes.
Since islanders voted against incorporation in the September referendum, the board is planning discussions with the Capital Regional District to investigate the possibility of converting to a CRD service area, which would open eligibility for provincial grants.
“Conversion is a highly complex issue and careful and extensive study will be necessary to determine what this change would mean to the district before any recommendation can be made to ratepayers,” the board reports.
In addition, the board is hoping to change senior government policy to make things more equitable.
“A meeting has been scheduled later this month with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to inform them of our needs and strongly advocate for a change, or at least an exception, to ministry policy. It is hoped that with the recent change of government, the current policy will be reviewed,” the newsletter states.
The board is seeking the active support of Saanich and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen as a catalyst for such change. A meeting with him has been scheduled for December that will include the Salt Spring Fire Protection District and other affected bodies.
The next regularly scheduled NSSWD public board meeting takes place on Nov. 23.