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Ritchot Proposes Large Utility Rate Increase

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Residents of the RM of Ritchot will soon see utility rates rise as much as 56 percent over three years, according to a proposal put forward by council. The increases are notably higher than the rate of current inflation.

The change affects water and sewer utility charges, which will increase dependent on an individual’s consumption rate measured in cubic metres. Individuals using the least amount of water will be charged the highest increase while greater volume users will see an increase of 49 to 51 percent.

The rate change also coincides with the RM’s plan to combine all utility charges into one rate which will be applied across the entire municipality. While this is already the current practice in Ste. Agathe, residents in St. Adolphe and Île-des-Chênes will no longer see a sewage fee listed on their annual tax statement. Instead water, sewer, and service charges will be combined into one fee entitled “water consumption” and applied on the quarterly utility invoices sent by the RM.

The proposed changes are still before the Public Utilities Board and would take effect after July 1, 2022 and increase annually for three years.

Reasons for Increase

The RM says utility rates have not been raised in about two decades and the proposed changes are needed to counter a deficit currently incurred by the utility services every year.

“The rates have not changed since 2002, nearly 20 years,” says Chris Ewen, mayor of Ritchot. “During this time period, some of the individual utility groups have been running deficits and these deficits require PUB approval. If too many deficits occur, the PUB will be requiring the municipality to look at their rates.”

The RM also says that these rate increases are necessary to support the municipality’s current infrastructure as well as planned development projects.

“The proposed rates are for operational and future capital projects, in anticipation that borrowing will not be required for these projects and the utility is self-sustainable,” says Ewen.

Residents Concerned

The RM conducted the first reading of the proposed bylaw in July 2021, but many residents were surprised and concerned by the notice they received in early January.

St. Adolphe business owner Keith Pearce said he was concerned, not only about the rise in rates but how they were communicated. Many residents said they first learned about the proposed rates on a community Facebook page.

“Up until I saw it on Facebook, I really hadn’t heard about it, how bad it was, or what it was exactly,” says Pearce. “So they haven’t really done a very good job of advising people what is coming this year, the year after.”

The RM welcomed questions from residents who wanted to find out more about the increases and request help figuring out what their bill will be come July.

Pearce says that he reached out to the CAO directly and received a breakdown of what the three years of increases will amount to for him individually.

“He took our readings from last year and did a spreadsheet of what we paid and what we would be looking at a one-year, two-year, three-year type of thing. It was really nice of him to do that,” says Pearce. “That’s when he told me it was because the rates hadn’t been raised in 20 years.”

The increase is substantial, but Pearce feels the rates would be better accepted in the community if people understood the deficit the RM has been incurring for water consumption for years.

“They could’ve said that in the letter to explain things a bit better,” he says. “Generally what I’m hearing is nobody heard that, which would go back to poor communication. If they’re asking for rate increases and nobody knows about it, and then doesn’t know why it is necessary, then it’s just going to go through with anger and that was one of the reactions people had.”

For Pearce, he says his household doesn’t use much water and doesn’t anticipate to struggle with the increase in rates. He also agrees with the RM’s intention to combine the utility fees into one bill.

“Previously the sewer rates have been tied to our taxes, but I think your sewer rates should be tied to water usage,” Pearce adds. “I know the city does it that way, like the sewer isn’t separate from water, so I think I’m supportive of it. It’s just a proper way of calculating what a person should be paying. The next door neighbour, he doesn’t have a swimming pool and we do, so we’re going to pay more than him and we should pay more than him.”

Pearce says that it may be hard for some people to see why the increase is necessary for three years in a row, and wishes the RM could be creative in finding other ways to tidy up the budget and ensure money is being properly spent.

“There’s a lot of places, if they’re looking for money, that maybe they should go through the expenses of running something like that and find out why things are the way they are, and why they cost so much. Are there areas of the expenses that can be trimmed back?” asks Pearce.

Not raising the rates in 20 years was a surprise, but Pearce said he can see why it’s necessary now especially given the recent residential and commercial developments ongoing throughout the municipality.

“Yeah, they’re probably finding themselves in a bit of a jam. There’s quite a bit of new development in Ste. Agathe and St. Adolphe. Grande Pointe’s had a lot and Île-des-Chênes’s had a lot.”

If the municipality didn’t foresee the need to increase water rates over the last 20 years, Pearce also wonders if the RM has raised them enough or if they will see increases more frequently from now on.

Given the recent rise in inflation, with the cost of water rising along with a lot of other goods and services, many household budgets may be put under pressure in the near future.

“I’m worried about inflation even after this,” says Pearce. “I can see inflation causing increases in almost anything, so if there are increases on top of this yet, this will be pretty out of line though. I’m concerned they’ll want it again next year and the year after that.”

Ron Rochon, who also lives in St. Adolphe, will see his rates rise as well. He feels that the RM did a poor job of communicating the proposed rates and is planning to write a letter to the Public Utilities Board enquiring about the process the RM has enacted when proposing the change.

“That’s the one thing I’m not necessarily happy with,” says Rochon. “It’s actually a big chunk of change… I’d love to have no price increase or maybe a cost of living increase that would be more reasonable. And maybe they could’ve told us that there wasn’t an increase for almost 20 years. Maybe the issue is nobody wants to be the one to give bad news and say that things have to increase. I didn’t hear about it until I got it in my water bill at the end of the year and then on Facebook.”

But Rochon also acknowledges that he understands the reason for the rate change. And because their household only has two people, he feels they don’t use a lot of water and the increase will be fair.

“When I take a look at the numbers, I guess I don’t think that it’s a big deal,” he says. “It’s not a lot of money. I guess any increase is a big increase, though… It’s similar to what happened with Manitoba Hydro. They went so long without price increases and now they have to catch up. I also understand that developments cost money, and there’s been a lot of development in the community.”

Rochon calls the step-by-step increases reasonable and agrees that the RM needs funds if they’re going to maintain and properly take care of things.

“If the RM is running a deficit every year, it has to be taken care of,” Rochon says. “I understand why this has to happen.”

RM Response

The municipality says it had provided the Public Utilities Board with a rate study as well as a proposal regarding the 2022–2024 rate request.

“In order to implement these rates, PUB approval is required,” says Mayor Ewen. “[The] PUB is an independent administrative board that will review the application and receive comments and complaints on this application. Pending these comments/complaints, the board may hold public hearings to know more about the proposal or determine it to be in the best interest of the stakeholders.”

When asked if increases will be proposed more frequently in the future to keep the utility rates more up to date and to prevent deficits from happening, Ewen agreed with the concerns of residents.

“In the future, I encourage councils to review rates of all types, be it water utility, tax mill rates, etc., to be evaluated more frequently so a 20-year gap does not happen,” says Ewen.

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