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Water and sewer rates to climb

Every drop of water – in and out – is going to cost you more this year, as the large rate increases are set to continue.

Woolwich residents will see significant jumps in both water and wastewater fees under a new rate structure approved in principle by council Tuesday night.

For 2011, Waterloo Region has pushed water rates by 6.9 per cent and wastewater 7.9 per cent. In Woolwich, which buys water from the region and runs the distribution systems itself, council has given preliminary approval to water rate hikes of 6.75 per cent, to $1.43 per cubic metre from $1.33 (a jump of $18 to $24 per year for an average household) and wastewater increases of 7.9 per cent, to $1.76 per cubic metre from $1.63 ($23 to $31 per year).

The Woolwich fees reflect the fact regional billing is the single-biggest component of the township’s costs, director of finance Richard Petherick told councillors.

Given that the region plans similar increases over the next few years, water and sewage rates are likely to climb accordingly.

The prospect of large increases prompted Coun. Allan Poffenroth to suggest the township should look at cost-saving measures such as contracting out meter-reading, currently done by staff members.

The service could be carried out by Waterloo North Hydro or Union Gas, for instance, which already pays people to read meters, he said. The job would also fit into retraining or welfare programs such as Ontario Works, where the pay would be much less than keeping the job in-house.

“It doesn’t take a real star to read a meter.”

Acknowledging that staff is looking at costs, Petherick said the current system is very labour-intensive, as it isn’t automated. A person goes out to read the meter, writes down the numbers in a logbook and that information is in turn typed into a computer for billing purposes.

New metering equipment might streamline the process, making it more easily done by contract workers.
For Coun. Bonnie Bryant, the across-the-board price hikes seemed to make less sense in the smaller communities in her Ward 3, where the water is drawn from local wells rather than piped in from elsewhere.

Petherick explained, however, that all nine water systems in the township are treated the same, with everyone paying the same rates. In fact, the bigger ones are probably subsidizing the smaller ones because of the economies of scale of operating larger systems.

While acknowledging the rate increases are large – “this has increased the cost of watering your lawn by 15 per cent” – Coun. Mark Bauman noted residents can work on lowering consumption to save money.

“This is something we have some control over,” he said of conservation measures, adding municipal water remains relatively inexpensive by comparison to bottled water, for instance.

“Anyone who buys bottled water has no reason to complain about the cost of water in Woolwich Township.”

The rate increases are expected to be formally adopted next month.

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