An Ottawa city councillor says he — and the rural residents he represents — have been "blindsided" by drastic annual increases to a newly introduced storm water fee.

The city devised a new fee system for water and sewer services last year in an effort to raise more money to maintain the system, a bill that's estimated to rise to $2.6 billion over the next decade.

Until recently, rural residents with private wells and septic systems haven't paid for storm water service.

Projected annual rate increases tabled at Tuesday's meeting of the environment and climate protection committee show residents will pay as much as 13 per cent more each year for storm water service over the coming decade. The city expects to reap $50.3 million in revenue next year, and $134 million by 2027. 

Those figures include inflation.

City 'disingenuous,' councillor claims

But Coun. Scott Moffatt, who represents the rural ward of Rideau-Goulbourn, said the city wasn't upfront about the increases when it introduced the plan last year.

"I think it's disingenuous that we created a new fee and came back several months later with a report that projects ... that fee will be increased by 270 per cent," Moffatt said, referring to the increase in projected revenue from wastewater by 2027.

'We didn't lie to people, but we certainly didn't tell them the whole story. It lacked transparency.' - Coun. Scott Moffatt

Storm water fees, which rural residents will now pay, are projected to rise much more dramatically than other water services, which they will not. 

The average combined rate increase for water, wastewater and storm water will be 5.2 per cent each year for the next five years, and 4.4 per cent for each of the following five years.

By comparison, the storm water fees alone are projected to rise at more than double those rates.

Moffatt said that's a big difference.

"There's not a single budget in the City of Ottawa that I know of that's going to increase by [that rate] over the course of 10 years," he said.

The 2018 increase will mean an extra $3.50 for the average rural homeowner, according to deputy treasurer Isabelle Jasmin.  

Projected rate increase Ottawa

This chart shows the projected annual rate increase for all water services in the city over the next 10 years. (City of Ottawa )

Chair defends process

David Chernushenko, chair of the environment committee, said no promises were made last year when the storm water rates were established.

"I don't believe residents were at all hoodwinked, misled, lied to. No shell games here," said Chernushenko.

Previously the storm water fee was included in urban property owners' sewer rates.

Rural residents turned out in droves to public consultations when the changes were proposed. Moffatt said many expressed concern that once introduced, the separate storm water fee would rise unabated.

Now, Moffatt said, that's exactly what's happening.

"We didn't lie to people, but we certainly didn't tell them the whole story. It lacked transparency."

The proposed rates have been referred to city council for debate next week.

The rates won't be set until city council approves them along with the rest of the budget in December.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the city estimates the cost to maintain the sewer and water system to rise to $22.6 billion over the next decade. In fact, the cost estimate is only $2.6 billion.
    Sep 20, 2017 8:57 AM ET