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City looks to PUB for new utility rates

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The city is asking the Public Utility Board (PUB) to review its water and sewer rates and has completed a rate review to determine what exactly is needed to make the utility sustainable.
According to city manager Sharla Griffiths, the last time the city completed a rate review was in 2011, which set the amount the municipality could charge for services until 2018.
A decision was made not complete a rate review at that time as significant improvements were planned at the city’s sewage lagoon.
“We applied for federal and provincial funding for a lagoon upgrade and in 2018, we did not know what the cost would be to operate the lagoon. We didn’t have the hard cost we had estimates,” Griffiths said.
“So we did not want to go through the process of doing a rate review just to have that project funded in 2019 or 2020 and then have to do a rate study again.”
When the decision was made, she added, the utility was still operating in the black. Now there is still no funding approved for the expansion and in 2019 the utility recorded a $8,800 deficit.
“So we don’t want to push that any further, especially since we do not know if the upgrade is around the corner or not,” she said, adding the province has forwarded a list of its funding priorities to the federal government, but will not indicate if Dauphin’s project is on that list.
“We’ve asked several times from several different angles and we don’t get an answer.”
The city is request the PUB approve a close-to-10-per-cent increase for 2021 to 2023, which will see the quarterly minimum charge for a 5/8-inch service increase to $79.12 from the current $73.17. Water usage above the minimum will be charged at $2.93 per cubic metre up from $2.68.
“Usually we would ask for five or six years, but because we still have this, hopefully soon impending lagoon project, we thought we would do three years,” Griffiths said, adding the new rates take into account costs that have arisen since 2012 such as the removal of phosphorus and ammonia from wastewater to meet provincial regulations.
“If we had done, say for example, a five or a six year proposal and we got the lagoon in year one or two, we could go and ask the public utility board for a revision. But we said, ‘if we’re going to have to ask for it anyways, why don’t we just do a new one starting in 2024.”
While the city is not looking to make a large amount of profit from the utility’s operation, it is important there is enough income to cover operations from year-to-year, as well as fund contributions to the Utility Reserve Fund for future capital requirements.
The rate review was completed in-house instead of contracting a consultant, Griffiths said, crediting the hard work of director of finance Scott Carr for getting work completed.
“Scott did take the opportunity over the summer time to carve out a chunk of time to dedicate to this. It’s pretty intense and does take some concentration,” she said.
“When we did this last time, our director of finance had not done one of these before so that was the first time he had done one. So it was nice that he had that experience to be able to do that again.”
City council gave first reading to the bylaw allowing for the new rates at their regular meeting Monday evening in the hopes of having the rates in place for Jan. 1, 2021.
The documents must now go the PUB for review and determination of whether a public hearing is needed or if a paper review will suffice.
“Once they approve it from their end, then we would give it second and third reading like any other bylaw,” Griffiths said, adding the city has been told its goal of Jan. 1, 2021 is optimistic.
“Once they do their review, we’ll get a better idea of what the effective date would be. We would prefer it to be at the beginning of a quarterly billing cycle, so April 1 or July 1 are the next options. So once we know the Public Utilities Board timing, we will amend the bylaw to read the correct start date.”