While four councillors voted in favour of implementing a two percent increase in sewer and water rates for all classes Monday night, Mayor Dan Onichuk stood dead against the hikes.
“The residents are subsidizing the large commercial, and a lot of the small businesses that don’t use a lot of water, like the ones downtown, they’re subsidizing the restaurants in the west end of town, and so on and so forth, and its wrong,” the mayor said after Monday night’s meeting.
Mayor Onichuk noted he opposed the 10 percent across-the-board increase last year for this very same reason.
“We spent a lot of money, and we brought in a consultant, an expert in the field, to put together a report that was never acted upon by council,” he said, referring to a report and 10-year fee schedule outlined by consultant Gary Scandlan of CN Watson & Associates at a public meeting here back on June 16, 2005.
“I was adamant that it should have been then, and I still believe it should be now,” added the mayor.
Mayor Onichuk said he felt the two percent hike, stacked on top of last year’s 10 percent increase, basically amounts to a 12 percent jump in subsidies for large consumers of water—primarily the hotel and restaurants, and the larger industrial operators, like the mill and Normiska.
“I don’t think it’s fair small businesses and the residents should have to do that,” he added. “We’ve gone to great lengths to try and minimize the tax increases to the commercial and the industrial. And that’s been at the expense of the residential.
“It’s to spark economic growth and I understand that, I agree with that.
“But they shouldn’t have it both ways,” he stressed. “Pay your fair share for water like everybody. In the end, that could potentially mean freezing the water and sewer rates for the residents of the Town of Fort Frances.”
Couns. John Albanese, Roy Avis, Tannis Drysdale, and Neil Kabel voted in favour of the two percent hike. Couns. Todd Hamilton and Rick Wiedenhoeft were absent from the meeting.
The new rates will not come into effect until council votes on the bylaw. A public meeting regarding the hikes will be held Monday, Feb. 13—just prior to council voting on this bylaw to implement the increase.
If passed, customers will see their first bill around the first week of March for the months of January and February.
As discussed by council during its budget discussions, the rationale for the increase was so that sewer and water projects for the year ahead would not have to be funded solely through reserves.
Even so, Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown outlined in a report to council that with the two percent increase, the town still is taking $8,966 from the sewer reserve and $24,448 from the water reserve to support the 2006 capital and operating budgets.