Utility rate increases in Lacombe expected for 2019

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Lacombe residents and business owners will likely see increases to their utilities next year.

On Monday, city council gave first reading to the 2019 Utility Rate Bylaw, which will see increases to bulk water, waste water, and solid waste.

Bulk water will increase 25 cents from $4.50 per cubic metre to $4.75 in order to accommodate the bulk water dispensary system and software implemented in 2017 enabling customers to use credit cards at the terminal or have prepaid accounts.

Monthly fixed water rates, which cover administration and distribution costs, will remain at $26.22 per month and the per unit consumption rate will also stay at the current $2.47 per cubic metre rate.

Waste water, meanwhile will see the fixed monthly cost stay at $20 per month, but see a per unit consumption fee increase from $2.15 to $2.65 per cubic metre of effluent. The increase is partly due to the North Red Deer Regional Waste Water System becoming operational in 2018, and a three- year plan to work towards a $2.90-$3 per cubic metre of effluent rate for the system, as well as variable treatment costs.

The highest increases, however, are expected in the area of solid waste, including residential garbage pickup, blue box recycling, yard waste and composting, as well as the Wolf Creek Drive recycling centre.

Residential rates will jump by $3.90 to $31.76 per month. Apartment rates will increase by $2.70 to $19.97 per month, and modular home park rates will also increase by $2.70 to $24.49 a month.

Commercial rates are expected to increase by $6.90 to a total of $116.79 per month per bin. Additional cardboard pickup will jump by the same amount to $106.79 per month, while unscheduled pickups will be set at $58.39 per pickup for commercial waste and $53.39 for cardboard.

It was the commercial rates that resulted in councillors questioning whether the city could be pricing itself out of business with some local companies moving towards private garbage collectors.

Administration said it was a concern they were aware of, but one that isn’t scheduled to be looked at, according to council’s strategic plan, until 2021 as part of a solid waste review.

“We haven’t done a comprehensive review yet of where we compare in terms of the private market for garbage collection, but I would suggest that companies that are moving away from city pickup…it would be because the rates are lower,” said Director of Operations and Planning Jordan Thompson. “It’s something we plan to look at and get to the bottom of.”

Coun. Don Gullekson question if the city should even be in the business of garbage pick up if their were cheaper alternatives, while Coun. Chris Ross said he wasn’t sure commercial rates should be increased until the solid waste review is done.

“It doesn’t make sense to increase the rates if we’re not competitive. With all due respect, we see a lot of other (solid waste) companies within the city,” he said. “I don’t feel this is solving the problem…It’s a significant loss in terms of cash flow to the city.”

Given advancing the review would impact the budget, Thompson suggested bringing forward an accelerated timeline for it during spring budget adjustments in April 2019.

Despite concerns regarding the city’s competitiveness with garbage pick up services for commercial businesses, first reading was still given with rates to be effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Ross voted against.