Town looking to shift how stormwater system is funded

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by Colin Smith

Morinville property owners will be paying a service charge for stormwater utility services next year if a draft bylaw is adopted, with the cost to non-residential owners being double the $5 fee residential owners will pay initially.

The draft Stormwater Services Charges bylaw was presented to council at its Oct. 14 Committee of the Whole meeting. It is scheduled to receive first reading at council’s Oct. 23 regular meeting.

The bylaw came in conjunction with a stormwater utility report from Corvus Business Advisors that might be taken to suggest that Morinville has been living in a fool’s paradise when it comes to paying for its system.

Morinville provides stormwater services including infrastructure such as catch basins, manholes, mains, storm ponds and pumping stations that manage the impact of rainstorms and ensure proper drainage.

The current annual cost is $208,000, funded through Morinville’s general tax levy, states the Corvus report, prepared in cooperation with municipal officials.

With 3,374 stormwater service customers, each customer, residential and non-residential property owners alike, is paying $5.15 per month for the service.

There are two major problems with that, according to the report.

First, the same rate is being paid on commercial properties even though they typically have a greater impact on the stormwater system because they have a greater impervious area – surfaces, for example, that are paved or covered with concrete, that prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground.

The other major issue is that the system as presently financed is unsustainable, the report declares. The current charges cover operations only, with no money set aside to replace the Town’s $36 million in stormwater infrastructure or add new facilities.

The report’s authors say the ideal is a self-sustaining stormwater system in which rates cover the full cost of current operations, plus future replacement and maintenance.

Leaving the charge as it is would result in a $15.9 million infrastructure deficit, but they consider that an immediate increase to cover the full cost of the system would require very high rates.

Therefore the report recommends a gradual, long-term transition toward full cost rates.

Morinville’s draft Stormwater Services Charges bylaw follows the report recommendations in implementing a monthly charge, which in 2019 will be $5 for residential property owners and $10 for non-residential property owners.

That reflects the fact that the latter generally are heavier users of the system, while the 2X proportion was based on a survey of the rates charged by other municipalities and organizations.

The report recommends that the charge rise annually until the year 2027 when rates would be $32 per month for residential property and $64 for non-residential property.

It is anticipated that rate strategy would begin to generate more funds than needed for operational requirements next year and by 2027 build up $6.9 for new capital and rehabilitation and maintenance requirements.

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