tap water

The Town of Shelburne has applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for significant increases to its water rates. (iStock.com)

Households and businesses that get their water from the Town of Shelburne could be facing a dramatic hike in their bills as a result of what a top official is calling a "perfect storm."

The town has applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for rate increases of between 43 and 71 per cent this year, prompting concerns that some residents will no longer be able to afford their water bill.

If the increase goes through, it means the average residential customer will be paying roughly $65 more this year on their quarterly bill. The review board has asked the town for a couple of amendments to its application, which could bring down the increase.

Dylan Heide, the chief administrative officer of the town, said the Shelburne Water Utility is in a deficit.

One of its biggest industrial customers, a fish plant, closed in 2008. The town funded half the cost of a $2-million waterline extension that few residents are using.

That has resulted in debt and other costs of more than $100,000 a year. By comparison, the utility's operating expenses are around $400,000 a year.

"We've been caught in a situation … almost a perfect storm of a situation, that we do not have, unfortunately, a lot of options to get out of," Heide said in an interview.

Rock bottom

He acknowledged it could be tough for some customers and said administration and council are aware of the implications.

Former Mayor P.G. Comeau was an intervener at Wednesday's Utility and Review Board hearing.

He calls the rate hike proposal "outrageous," saying it will go over particularly hard in a community where the economy is at "rock bottom" and money is tight for many people.

Comeau said he owns two houses he rents out. But if the water hikes are imposed he won't hook those properties up to the waterline and they will continue to rely on wells.

Another Shelburne resident, former town clerk Wilmont Hardy, agrees the proposed increase is too much.

"It will be a financial hardship for many of the individuals in town," he said.

He questions whether the utility is being managed properly.