Gimli seasonal and urban district residents criticize water, sewer rates
The Interlake Enterprise, June 15, 2016, Page 10
By Jim Mosher
Outnumbered by provincial and local municipal officials, the four people who spoke during a Public Utilities Board (PUB) hearing last Tuesday [June 7, 2016] evening hammered home long-standing concerns about Gimli’s water and sewer rates.
Four people spoke to the matter after introductory remarks from Anita Neville, vice chair of the board and chairman of the PUB hearing panel of four.
Representing the municipal delegation were Mayor Randy Woroniuk, chief administrative officer Joann King, utility and planning services clerk Amanda Colbourne and public works chairman Coun. Danny Luprypa.
King said the rates, which had been approved by the PUB on an interim basis in December, pending the recent public hearing, said reduced rates for sewer reflect the municipality’s decision to take sewage from the Diageo plant on Distillery Rd.
“We have been working on these rates for some time,” King told the PUB panel. “[We are] moving them forward so we could offer our consumers this reasonable rate structure. We had an opportunity come forward with a major industrial customer. We’ve worked with them [Diageo] to put together a rate that would be feasible for them.”
The chief administrator noted that the municipality and Diageo have a three-year agreement. The interim rates cover the years 2016-2018, inclusive.
“Are there any positive environmental impacts [of the Diageo deal]?” a panel member asked.
“The environmental benefits are really in the area of odour from their aging system,” King said. “At our sewage treatment plant, we struggle because we don’t have a large number of users.”
In addition, she said the effluent from Diageo is “not sewage in the traditional sense” because it has high concentrations of “bugs” that are active year-round.
The four property owners who spoke during the hour-long hearing were more concerned about the minimum charge for sewer.
Most argued that they should not be charged a minimum consumption rate of 13.5 cubic metres quarterly when they are only at their summer homes four to six months a year. According to the interim rates for sewer in Loni Beach and South Beach, property owners there pay a quarterly service charge of $21.33 this year (down from $27.07) and a $1.29/ cu.m. (down from $2.31) charge based on a minimum of 13.5 cu. m., or $17.41.
Glen Rossong has been a persistent critic of the municipality’s sewer and water rates structure for years. His family has had a summer home in South Beach since 1937, he told the panel.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for two-and-a-half years,” Rossong, 62, and a permanent resident of West St. Paul, told the PUB panel.
He said he wanted a seasonal rate to be considered because he does not use the sewer system during the winter. Administrator King later explained that there had been a seasonal rate but many seasonal residents used their sewer during the off-season.
Rossong estimated that of 120 homes in South Beach, only 17 property owners live there permanently. King did not quibble with Rossong’s numbers but, once again, stressed that there are many more permanent residences that could be occupied during the winter if the owners chose.
That creates an enforcement and fairness issue should residents ‘over stay’ during the winter, she suggested.
Rossong said the matter could be resolved by installing meters in sewage tanks. “I should have the right to install a meter — at my cost,” he said. “In my case, I don’t have a well.”
He characterized the existing sewer rates for summer property owners as a cash grab from city people. “We are paying more than in the town of Gimli,” he said. “The question is: Why shouldn’t everybody be paying the same.”
South Beach resident Ken Kristjanson told the PUB panel the area’s cottage association made a presentation to council four years ago. “There would have been more people here tonight had we known about this meeting,” he said. “We said four years ago that we’d like consideration for the seasonal. They [council of the day] said it was not possible.”
Kristjanson said if the rates stay as they are in the now-enforced interim rates, it won’t be the end. But: “Ever since we got the service, my municipal tax bill has always been lower that the sewer bill,” he said.
Ken Andrewshenko lives in the Vesturland subdivision, west of Hwy. 9. He has lived in Gimli since 1983. A contractor, Andrewshenko says he has a lot of contact with permanent residents and others who choose to travel during the winter months.
They are required to pay the quarterly sewer and water rates, even though don’t use the ‘commodities’, he said. He noted that Manitoba Hydro would be skewered by customers if it charged a minimum consumption rate when customers are not using electricity.
He did not quarrel with the quarterly service charge which is meant to defray the ongoing cost of maintaining the sewer and water systems.
He said charging a base quarterly rate of 13.5 cu.m. when no ‘commodity’ is consumed is “unfair, probably illegal, probably fraudulent.”
“I have not been satisfied by any of their explanations,” he said of Gimli administration’s arguments for maintaining a minimum quarterly ‘consumption’ rate over and above the service charge.
“It’s not fair to the people who have summer cottages,” he said. “They’re not using the commodity but they’re paying for a commodity. This system should be changed. We vote for leadership. A leader would say, ‘Let’s do some critical thinking here.’”
Further, Andrewshenko believes the entire municipality should be on a seasonally-adjusted flat rate for all consumers.
King said the minimum consumption rate has been around for some time. “It’s to ensure our system is sustainable operationally,” she said. “The quarterly minimum is reflective of managing and administering the utility. It’s not a pipe charge.”
Panel chair Neville interrupted Andrewshenko who’d taken exception to King’s explanations. “We’re not here to get into an argument,” Neville said.
“We just want to pay for what we get,” Andrewshenko concluded.
Before the hearing concluded, a long- time resident, who did not provide his name, encouraged the panel to consider the aging demographic of Gimli and the struggle among seniors to keep pace with everincreasing costs.
“I’ve heard from many seniors who say they can’t afford to stay in Gimli,” he said.