Photo by Curology on Unsplash

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

Trail sets 2020 utility rates, turns focus to eco-measures

Bill notices and payments can be made on the City of Trail website

The city is asking Trail ratepayers to go green when it comes to dealing with their 2020 utility bill.

Encouraging Trail residents to go paperless – meaning to receive their annual invoice via email and pay online – was talked about at the Tuesday governance meeting before city leaders agreed to a 1.6 per cent collective rate increase for garbage, water and sewer services.

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Not only is the digital option more eco-friendly, it is also a money-saving tactic that, theoretically, would trickle down and lighten the load for ratepayers in the coming years.

“Council discussed the ongoing provision of paper copies of utility invoices and is hopeful that more people will sign up to receive the annual bill and reminders via email,” the city’s David Perehudoff told the Trail Times.

“Council will review this again in the future and may consider implementing a fee to receive a paper copy in the hopes that people move to receive an e-copy, which reduces the city’s direct costs and is an environmentally friendly option,” he said. “Information regarding signing up for electronic notices can be found on the city’s website.”

Another discussion at the table this week, was how utility rates for Trail homeowners compare to nearby cities.

When annual bills are mailed out in January, city ratepayers can expect a $785 invoice, which is a $12.50 increase over 2019. (This doesn’t include a discount of $50+ for those who buck up and pay their entire bill before Feb. 28)

So, how does this number stack up next to similar-sized municipalities like Castlegar and Nelson?

According to Perehudoff’s review of 2019 rates, residential rates were around eight per cent less in Trail than Castlegar, and 10 per cent, or $115, lower than the $1,207 charge for homeowners living in the Queen City.

“Within the report provided to council, staff presented a review of utility rates charged by neighbouring communities like Castlegar, Nelson and Rossland,” Perehudoff said.

“As the survey shows, Trail’s rates are on the low end of the spectrum when compared to other West Kootenay municipalities. In addition, several of the other communities polled have implemented universal water metering and are charging utility fees, including garbage, based on individual property use,” he clarified.

“Trail currently charges flat fees for all utility services and this provides a level of financial certainty for the ratepayer.”

Over the past several years, the approximate two per cent annual rate increase is largely due to the municipal water service.

“The city’s goal is to provide utility services that are reliable and safe when it comes to the provision of potable water,” Perehudoff explained.

Base budgets have been established for water, and sewer, that offer a reasonable balance for services provided versus the annual budget.

“This provides flexibility that is needed to effectively manage corresponding increases in rates where additional funding is required to maintain the level of service,” said Perehudoff.

“This approach allows for more marginal increases in rates on a year-over-year basis.”

To avoid significant rate hikes in any given year, he says an important consideration is to have the financial capacity to address unplanned service issues, such as a burst water main.

“Which then reduces the likelihood there will be a need to significantly increase user rates in any one year,” Perehudoff continued.

“In addition, administration is also sensitive to the fact that over and above utility charges, the same ratepayer is also paying property taxes to the City of Trail. While utility rates and related decisions are made independently and not driven by expectations within the upcoming general budget, annual utility rate increases carefully consider the overlapping user fee implications,” he concluded.

“Within the utility funds, the goal is to establish rates that ensure there is sufficient funding for core service needs and to provide a sustainable level of funding for annual capital projects.”

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