City council opted for more community consultation ahead of its decision to implement the new stormwater utility bylaw. 

The decision, made at Monday’s regular council meeting, will allow up to four weeks of community consultation. 

That will include three different utility models that could be implemented as a stormwater utility. Council plans to mull over the result in an upcoming committee of the whole meeting. 

“Council’s heard from many business owners and individuals in the community that maybe the method that was being considered wasn’t quite right, so tonight, knowing that there is a high level of engagement right now, which was great to see, council decided to put a little pause on it,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton. 

“I think, in principle council still fully supports a stormwater utility bill; it’s just now coming back and finding a model that serves people better.”

The three potential billing models include flat, uncapped, and capped. 

Council also directed administration to explore a potential new program “regarding an incremental bracket system” but as it still needs developing will not be part of public consultation.

Administration was directed to include a budget comparison on the stormwater utility for this year compared to previous years back to 2019 and projected up to 2029. 

The stormwater utility revenue will be used to repair, maintain and operate the stormwater infrastructure. Previously, that was funded through municipal taxes and provincial grants.

“This isn’t about the impact on the stormwater utility today or tomorrow; it’s for the one-in-50-year event, so mitigating risk to the system, putting away dollars for when the system needs upgrades,” said Clayton.

The city is expecting to implement the stormwater bylaw in July. 

Coun. Dylan Bressey said, “if we miss that July 1 implementation date, it starts having big financial impact on the city.”

During budget deliberations, council expected to have the utility implemented by July 1 so it only budgeted to have the stormwater system funded through taxes for six months. It will need to find additional revenue if not implemented by then.  

“A lot of time over multiple years has gone into calculations; if after community consultation council is confident that there’s a formula system that makes sense, we should be able to get to a conclusion, and then it should be able to get out by July 1,” said Clayton. 

Coun. Wendy Bosch said, “I’m okay if it costs us a little bit of money and we don’t implement it July 1, because I think we have to get it right.

“You don’t put a program in and say I wish I would have changed that.”

City council has said that the charge is meant to be cost-neutral, and the utility is not intended to generate additional revenue for the city.

Jeff Keddie, owner of Keddie’s Tack and Western Wear, spoke to council as a delegation at Monday’s meeting, saying the new utility will affect his business negatively and believes it could also impact businesses in the Richmond Industrial Park. 

He said it could cause businesses to move to the county where no such utility exists.

“The people in the city when this comes out are going to be shocked, especially the small businesses,” he said. “It seems like it gives the breaks to the big power centres, the malls, the pipeyards and not the other businesses in town to quite the same effect.”

Keddie said he doesn’t believe many residents realize what the stormwater utility entails, noting when he first heard about it, he assumed it meant the city was installing a new storm pond somewhere.

He said the proposed model in the draft bylaw would see his business pay 4.8 times more for stormwater than it did through municipal taxes. 

Keddie said he was happy to see council delay its decision and continue with more consultation; he said it is essential the public make their concerns heard, especially when the city is seeking consultation.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out; I reached out to council and the mayor, and they got back to me right away.” 

Fairness vs practicality 

“I don’t think we need more consultation on should we have a stormwater utility bylaw,” said Bressey, “I think there’s a lot more conversation to happen on what’s the fairest way to implement it.”

Chief Operating Officer Brian Glavin said the city looked at other options such as a flat fee for a utility charge, and noted he believed it would work out to about $35/month per residential household.

“If you wanted a perfectly fair and equitable system, it would likely cost so much that it wouldn’t be worth implementing,” said Glavin.

Public engagement

Glavin said the stormwater utility model was first introduced to council as a concept back in 2019. 

“Since that time, models ranging from a uniform fixed rate option that would charge all properties the same amount regardless of size to an impervious area model that would charge all properties based on their impervious areas without a cap have been explored,” he said.

In April, public consultation began by looking at an impervious surface area model and an assessment-based model with impervious surface area modifiers.

Public consultation was done on May 31 and July 14, and engagement closed on July 8. 

Glavin said invites were sent to some industry stakeholders, including the school divisions, the Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce, as well as builders and realtors. 

“Part of being public servants is touching base with the public, and I know our administration has done a great job organizing information sessions throughout the years as this is developed, but sometimes you can be sitting in a boat and casting a line out, and you’ll never get any nibbles, and you go home empty handed and the other days you throw out a line and you catch a bunch of fish,” said Coun. Chris Thiessen. 

“I’m looking at our public consultation as we have a bunch of empty boats, a bunch of empty nets.”

“We did have engagements, but not to the extent that we might have if we were actually to socialize, perhaps at a town hall, to create better understanding around the stormwater utility service as well as hear from the business community who might have even better ideas now that they know what’s going on here.”

Engagement sessions will begin to be planned over the next week.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 15, 2024 at 09:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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