'Increases can no longer be avoided': Halifax Water seeks rate hike

Costs are going up in every direction, and for people in Halifax, the next increase might be their water bill.

Halifax Water is seeking permission from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for a water, wastewater and stormwater rate hike this September and once again in April 2023.

The rate hike would mean a typical residence in the Halifax Regional Municipality that currently pays about $78.31 quarterly for water and $125.27 quarterly for wastewater would pay an additional $1.65 on water and $4.64 in September.

In April 2023, rates would increase another $4.13 for water and $2.16 for wastewater.

Halifax Water is also asking for a hike to stormwater rates between $2 and $15 dollars and once again in April 2023, for an increase of between $3 and $19 –depending on the impervious area.

“Rate increases can no longer be avoided. Costs resulting from aging infrastructure, growth pressures, and ongoing environmental compliance are increasing,” said Cathie O’Toole, general manager of Halifax Water. “As are expenses such as electricity, chemicals and wages.”

They are pressures consumers know all too well as the costs of gas, food and energy go up.

“In such circumstances a utility needs to be especially diligent in keeping costs to a minimum amount possible,” said William Mahody, a consumer advocate.

“Utilities need to take the lead from their customers and learn to do more with less.”

Halifax Water is also going to waive some of the fees charged to overdue accounts and request to lower the interest rate charged to outstanding accounts from 19 per cent to 14 per cent.

PROVINCE DOESN’T WANT TO PAY

Halifax Water is looking to charge the Province of Nova Scotia $1.1 million in annual stormwater fees as of September, and about $1.2 million as of April, but the province does not want to pay the fees.

The Province of Nova Scotia filed a statement to the UARB arguing that Halifax Water has no authority to charge it for stormwater fees on its provincial roads.

Mark Rieksts, a lawyer with the Nova Scotia government, said the province manages its own stormwater service on its own roadways and this is the first time Halifax Water has tried to charge the province.

“This infrastructure is funded through the taxpayer dollars,” Rieksts said. “As the guardian of the public purse, the province is, and will remain vigilant that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

HALIFAX WATER DISAGREES

John MacPherson, a lawyer for Halifax Water, called it a “peculiar argument” and noted that the province has been paying for water services for 70 years.

“In our view the province is clearly wrong in both fact and law,” MacPherson said.

The hearing heard if the province doesn’t pay, the costs would be absorbed by other customers.

CONSERVING WATER

Lil MacPherson, co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant, said her business’ water bill is already about $500 a month. To conserve costs and energy, the restaurant has started only serving by request instead of automatically pouring it for every table.

Otherwise, MacPherson said, too much is wasted.

“You can drink as much water as you want here, you just have to ask for it,” she said.

When you add up the amount of water it takes to wash a glass of water, make the ice for it and fill it with water, Macpherson estimates it takes about three glasses of water to serve one.

She’s encouraging other restaurants to also conserve.

“Something really small that we all do together makes a huge impact on water conservation, which I hope HRM are talking about that,” MacPherson said.

As for the decision about if and when rates might go up, the UARB is still reviewing evidence.