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Water utility/fire rate hearing set

by Adam Jacobs

 MILL COVE - Users of the Mill Cove Park Water Utility are facing a near 100 per cent increase in rates should a municipal rate hike be approved.

 Earlier this month Chester Municipal Council officially approved a rate hike, although it must first be approved by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB).

 The public hearing on the request has been scheduled for November 13. The proceedings will begin at 10 a.m. at the Aspotogan Heritage Trust boardroom at the Hubbards Shopping Centre.

 The majority of the homes which would be affected by a rate increase are owned by Mill Cove Developments Ltd. Aspotogan Consolidated Elementary School will also be affected.

 The president of the company, Lou Benigno, said he's been aware something's been in the works for some time.

 That said, it still doesn't lessen the blow.

 "We pay lots of money already," he said. "We pay more yearly here than we do in Halifax.

 "We are shocked at the amount of increase and extremely concerned for our tenants if such an increase is approved. A number of tenants which will be most affected by the increases are on fixed or low incomes and an increase in water rates will in turn result in increased rentals; this will have a serious impact on the tenants' ability to meet their monthly obligations."

 There are 56 units and two larger buildings among his properties, for which Mill Cove Developments pays all the water bills.

 Mr. Benigno said he gets one lump bill for all the units as opposed to individualized statements.

 As of now the cost for unmetered customers is $79.18, billed quarterly.

 The municipality has proposed a 99 per cent increase to $157.55 for the 2008/2009 fiscal year.

 The rate would increase another 19 per cent to $187.56 in 2009/10 and another 7.4 per cent to $201.36 for 2010/11.

 For a 5/8-inch meter (residential), customer, the current average quarterly bill is $72.81 and is proposed to increase to $140.04 (92.3 per cent) in 2008/09; $166.90 (19.2 per cent) in 2009/10 and $179.61 (7.6 per cent) in 2010/11.

 For the two-inch meter customer, the current quarterly bill is $284. It is proposed to be $514.67 (81.2 per cent) in 2008/09; $626.66 (a 21.8 per cent) in 2009/10; and $691.73 (10.4 per cent) in 2010/11.

 For the four-inch meter customer, the current quarterly bill is $880.88 and it is proposed to be $1,584.32 (79.9 per cent) in 2008/09; $1,931.69 (21.9 per cent) in 2009/10; and $2,133.91 (a 10.5 per cent) in 2010/11.

 Amendments have also been proposed to the public fire protection charge.

 The current annual fire protection charge is $5,586. It is proposed to be $14,507 (a 159.7 per cent increase) in 2008/09; $21,390 (47.4 per cent) in 2009/10; and $23,615 (10.4 per cent) in 2010/11.

 Mr. Benigno said he plans on opposing the application at the hearing.

 "It is very difficult to find low- and medium-cost housing in the District of Chester and such an increase will only make the cost of housing for low income earners less affordable," he said. "It will be the intention of Mill Cove Developments to oppose this application to the full extent possible and we urge the local residents to contact their councillors to voice their opposition to such an extreme, disproportionate and unfair rate increase."

 Reports from the municipality state the utility has lost $180,000 since it took over in 2001.

 Warden Allen Webber said the municipality arrived at the new rates by hiring and working with a consultant. When the process began he did warn there would be significant suggested increases.

 "These are the rates required to meet the financial obligations of the system," Mr. Webber said. "It's not a money-making operation."

 The hearing is open to the public.

 Anyone wishing to comment may do so at the hearing or by forwarding a letter to the clerk of the board at:

 Box 1692, Unit "M," Halifax, N.S. B3J 3S3, or by e-mail at, or by calling the Clerk at (902) 424-4448, or fax (902) 424-3919.

 However, if you wish to take a formal stand and present evidence for or against or to cross-examine witnesses, you should file notice of such intention and a copy of the written evidence with the Board not later than November 6.

 Should the hearing prove unsuccessful, Mr. Webber said the water utility will remain, for now.

 "We will continue the operation of the utility at a deficit," he said. "But, you can't operate on a deficit forever."

 The subject of ceasing to operate the utility has briefly been touched on in public meetings, but no decision is imminent.

posted on 10/07/08
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