Water rates must fall if Saint John plans to grow: deputy mayor

Saint John's deputy mayor is claiming the city's water rates are the highest in Canada and is warning they must come down if the city is to grow.

Saint John's deputy mayor is concerned that if the city's households are forced to pay for water based on their consumption, the rate is so high the city won't be able to grow.

Stephen Chase took a look at water rates and said that based on a household using the Canadian average of 280 cubic metres of water per year, homes in Saint John with water meters are likely paying  more than $1,000 a year for water and sewage.

At that rate of consumption, a household in Toronto, for example, would pay about $560.

Chase said Saint John's water rates are among the highest in Canada.

Few homes in Saint John currently have meters, and so they pay a flat rate for water. But with the city leaning toward putting more households on meters, Chase sees a looming problem for municipal development.

"Our water rates are too high. That's the problem. We need to reduce them. We certainly can't let them go higher," Chase said.

Those high rates act as a disincentive when people are looking to move to the southern New Brunswick city.

"People still look at their final bill and decide whether they will live in this city or not. It's part of the whole equation, high taxes, high water rates," he said.

Most households in Saint John currently pay a flat rate of $830 for water and sewage, no matter how much they use.

Other cities pay more for water

There are several Canadian centres where residents pay more for their water than those in Saint John. 

In Nanaimo, B.C., for example, the water bill for the average household is about $500 a year, said Mike Donnelly, manager of water services for Vancouver Island city.

Nanaimo charges a separate sewage fee, which brings the total bill to $840 — $10 more than the flat water rate in Saint John.

"We're trying to reduce water consumption," Donnelly said, adding that he expects rates in many B.C. communities will soon be going up.

"There's a general sense that water's been undervalued in B.C.," he said.

"There's been a general sense that there's an abundance of water and it's not really highly valued."

Chase said the rates in Saint John for metered households will go well beyond what's needed to encourage conservation.