N.S. government, Halifax Water argue over $1M stormwater bill

Halifax Water and the province of Nova Scotia are arguing about a more than $1 million stormwater bill the city utility wants to send to the province.

The utility is looking to charge the Province of Nova Scotia $1.1 million in stormwater fees in 2022/2023 and $1.2 million in 2023/2024 but the province is not interested in paying it.

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

Mark Rieksts, a lawyer with the province, said the province manages its own stormwater service on its own roadways and said this was 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 lawyer John MacPherson called it a peculiar argument and noted how the province has been paying for wastewater since 2007, and since 2013 when stormwater fees came in, they’ve been a site-generated flow customer.

“In our view, the province is clearly wrong in both fact and law,” MacPherson said. “We see this as an extremely significant issue to be determined by the board.”

If the province doesn’t pay the fee, other customers will have to absorb the cost.

Customers are already bracing for a possible $40 hike to annual water, wastewater and stormwater rates in 2022/2023 and an additional increase of $40.56 in 2023/2024.

“The burden right now is on the ratepayers and businesses and residential ratepayers to pay this right of way fee when in fact stormwater also exists on 100 series highways and there's a lot of 100 series highways,” said Pam Lovelace, Halifax Regional Municipality councillor for District 13 and deputy mayor.

Besides its written submission, the province says it is not taking part in the utility proceedings.

“I think it's time for the province to step up and recognize we need to be doing this together, and (for) them to excuse themselves from the table and to not play in the sandbox anymore, I think is irresponsible,” said Lovelace.

The Halifax Dartmouth Bridge Commission had also filed a letter arguing it should not be charged for stormwater fees because it's a crown agent. But on Tuesday, it withdrew that statement.