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Thursday, April 9, 2020
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Water bills join death and taxes as inevitable

Death, taxes and ever-increasing water bills.

Woolwich wants to link the latter two, with the first not a good enough excuse to forgive the others.

Councillors this week approved a new process for applying security deposits and collecting arrears associated with water and wastewater accounts. Where the township would previously resorted to collection agencies to help with overdue or unpaid bills, it will now simply apply the outstanding balances to the municipal tax bill, essentially putting a lien on the property.

That’s true whether the property is occupied by the owner or the tenant. For owners, it means the bill must be paid one way or another, while in the case of rentals, the landlord will be responsible for paying the freight, then trying to collect the money from the lessee, former or otherwise.

The new process should make life easier for the township, if not those in arrears. That part works in the general public’s favour, though that such a move is necessary is symptomatic of runaway costs associated with over-regulated, overpriced and inefficient water and sewage systems that have become symbols of bureaucracy’s worst tendencies.

To be sure, the township – in this case, ratepayers – shouldn’t be on the hook for deadbeat customers, but there would be fewer defaults if increases didn’t keep outstripping inflation by huge margins.

Once upon a time, water and sewer fees were a relatively small thing, so much so that we didn’t think about the amount of water we used, or even just flushed away.

The real costs of scarcity and environmental damage are now showing up in conventional energy prices. And for some years now, water has edged into that territory, no longer simply taken for granted and priced accordingly.

Rates for water and sewers are soaring. We ignored the deteriorating infrastructure that brought us fresh water and piped away what we had used. We paid scant attention to the ecological system that provided the supply and absorbed our waste. No more. Prices are rising now to make up for years of neglect – the relatively free ride is over.

By now, Woolwich residents are no strangers to large increases on their bills, mostly the result of costs imposed by the Region of Waterloo. With the region planning for ongoing significant jumps in its rates, you’ll continue to see those expenses appear on your municipal water bill.

The region justifies the hikes by pointing to the scale of the work needed to deal with aging infrastructure and to accommodate population growth.

However, necessary or not, increases do not play well with the public, the people who have been digging deeper into their pockets to pay for water.

Because it seems like we’re always paying more, but receiving nothing more in return – at least not much that we can see – the increases rankle.

While we can’t see where our cash is going, Woolwich and all other Ontario municipalities have been incurring increased costs due to government rules, much of it knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Walkerton. For communities with safe drinking water, the extra layer of red tape has served only to boost costs, with no effect on the product that pours out of our taps.

Regulations governing water testing – warranted or not – have help boost costs, but nothing like the infrastructure upgrades that will be needed in the coming years. Again, some of those are the fault of the province, which has changed the way municipalities must handle water and sewage.

The bottom line is you’re paying more this year, next year and every year for the foreseeable future.

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