By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April 27, 2012
District of Squamish is rewriting the water and sewer bylaws, a process it hopes to complete by the spring of 2013, Mayor Rob Kirkham said in an email interview with the Squamish Reporter.
Kirkham said it is district priority to make the rate collection process as ‘fair and equitable’ as possible.
“The rewrite seeks to establish flat rates for water and sewer that reflect expected water demand, based on pipe size and other factors,” Kirkham said.
It will also enable metering to be phased gradually in the future, Kirkham added.
A revision of utility rate bylaw is a promise that has been made in the past.
At a council meeting in 2011, the then Councillor Corrine Lonsdale had wondered how it “makes sense that the owners of public houses (bars) pay more for utilities than car washes.”
Financial Services GM Joanne Greenlees agreed it didn’t.
“This is an urgent issue and the structure hasn’t been changed in years,” she informed the council last year.
“The engineering department is looking to revise the bylaws this year,” Greenlees had said at that time.
She promised the district will come up with a system that’s more relevant to today’s standards.
That revision might have been postponed to 2013, but the utility bylaws are under a sharp focus this year with owners of day cares protesting a hefty sewer and water usage bill they received along with their regular residential one.
Sarah-Jane Ruttan is one such licenced day care provider who said she was shocked to see an extra $657 billed to her for sewer for commercial use.
She was also billed $181.43 for water usage on a commercial rate.
With no specific category for home-based businesses, her day care has been billed under a generic category for commercial uses.
After she protested, the district offered to reduce her bill by $271. For a moment, she was satisfied until she said she realised the entire utility bill for commercial rate is unfair.
Ruttan is refusing to pay for the extra utility bill.
“I’m more than happy to pay for my residential utilities, I don’t even mind the increase in utilities, but I won’t pay the extra bill,” Ruttan said.
Councillor Susan Chapelle agrees it’s a flawed policy to charge commercial rate for utilities on a home-based business.
“There is NO evidence that home business uses extra utilities. To tax on this is unfair. It is time to update the bylaw, and to remove the utilities tax on home based business,” Chapelle wrote in an email.
To do that, she has put forward a motion to amend the bylaws so a home based business with less than three full-time employees will pay residential rates and charges, unless the business resides in a separate building from the principle residence or is classified as agricultural.
Chapelle said charging extra for utilities could have the ill-effect of driving home-based businesses underground.
“Why would people apply to work at home and get a licence if they know there is a $500-$800 extra charge coming at utility time?”