Most customers within Salt Spring Island’s largest water district won’t see any increase in their parcel tax base rate this year, according to district officials, who offered a preview of 2024 that included what might be the region’s only pause in tax hikes.
But water users will still likely face an increase in per-gallon rates and capital surcharges, according to North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s (NSSWD) financial officer Tammy Lannan, who presented a draft 2024 budget and five-year plan to trustees at their regular meeting held Thursday, Sept. 28.
In preparation for the new water treatment plant for Maxwell Lake, she said, customers will again see a capital construction surcharge for the second of four years — a phased-in schedule that cost $90 this year, and will come in at $200 in 2024 and $300 in 2025.
That surcharge is predicted to rise to $400 in 2026, although the last phased-in amount could change as detailed design plans for the Maxwell plant are completed later this year. The surcharge is expected to fund the long-term debt incurred by the plant, currently budgeted at $10 million.
And for water tolls, the NSSWD board is considering a 10 per cent increase in water rates for 2024 — although Lannan said she expects that to only result in an 8.5 per cent increase in revenue because of the “elastic response” the district noticed over the summer — i.e. customers choosing to use less water when per-gallon costs rise.
There will also need to be more toll rate increases in upcoming years, Lannan said, admitting rate hikes in the five-year plan were “aggressive” but necessary.
“We need to save for the long-term debt,” said Lannan. “There have been many years where either the rates were not increased at all, or were only increased one or two per cent. That was just never getting us to a place where we actually have a healthy reserve after paying long-term debt.”
The draft plan envisions an eight per cent toll increase in 2025, and another five per cent in 2026.
“I’m hoping in 2027 we can get to a consistent two per cent [annually],” said Lannan. “We were the cheapest district forever. I think we’re now starting to get in line with the rest of the districts, and with the reality of how much it costs to provide water.”
Notably, parcel tax rates in 2024 will not increase under the draft budget, other than the final phase-in for premiums to properties with multiple units, and properties classed as commercial or institutional. Bare lots, single-family dwellings, farms and stratas will not see a base rate increase in the current budget plan.
A customer impact report suggests most NSSWD customers will notice a relatively small increase in their annual water tolls — less than $7 per month for about 70 per cent of households, according to the report, if their current usage remains the same.
“Our single family dwellings, bare land, farms and stratas are mostly going to notice that $110 increase for the long-term debt from Maxwell,” said Lannan.
The draft budget will be presented to ratepayers at an open house event at Community Gospel Chapel on Thursday, Oct. 5 from 3 to 6 p.m. The budget can also be viewed on the district’s northsaltspringwaterworks.ca website.