Calgary

Not all water customers in Calgary will be asked to cover high bills

City officials say it's not a sure thing that every household will see their water bills go up by 30-40 cents a month next year to cover the cost of forgiving high water bills for other customers.

City officials say there are no plans for a special surcharge

City of Calgary officials say there are no plans to add a special surcharge to cover the cost of forgiving high water bills. (istock Getty Images (DO NOT USE))

City officials say it's not a sure thing that every household will see their water bills go up by 30-40 cents a month next year to cover the cost of forgiving high water bills for other customers.

The city commissioned reports following complaints in 2017 about unexplained high water bills from dozens of customers.

The complaints resulted in council directing the city to forgive big bills for abnormally high water consumption.

The water resources department says doing that will mean a reduction of an estimated $1.5 million a year in revenue.

Earlier this month, Shannon Abbott with the city's water resources department said one of the options for recovering that cost was to pass on a monthly 30-40 cent charge to all other water customers in the city.

At that time, she said the additional charge would be "30-40 cents a month per customer account. Yeah. That would start in 2019.  And again, that's an estimation."

However at city council on Monday, the director of water resources said that plan is not in the cards.

Rob Spackman said the department will incorporate the additional cost into its recommendations for water rates for the 2019-2022 budget. There is no plan for a separate line item on your water bill.

"We're not suggesting that there would be a rate increase," he said. "The $1.5 million will be just one of many variables that get incorporated into a rate-setting exercise."

He said the water department's spending was trimmed by $30 million in 2017 through about 100 different initiatives, so it's possible the loss of revenue can be made up in other ways.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he considers covering this cost just part of the city's business.

"Bills will likely go up regardless because the cost of water servicing is going up a little bit," said the mayor. "But we've frozen them in the last couple of years. They will likely go up anyway but it won't be because of this."

As for the discrepancy with the comments earlier in the month, Nenshi said he figures the department 'misspoke a little bit at committee."

There was another clarification about the cost of inspections being done by the city to find the source of high water consumption on individual properties.

In the last three months of 2017, the report to city council indicated that 160 high consumption inspections were done by the city.

Although the report to council stated those inspections cost approximately $600 per visit, Spackman clarified Monday that such inspections can cost "up to $600."

He explained that sometimes staff can find the source of an unexplained leak quickly while other times it can be more complicated to determine why someone's consumption has jumped.

As well, water meters have a recommended operating life of 15 years so sometimes, replacing the meter can be part of that process.

Spackman said installing a new meter can carry a price-tag of $250-$300 which helps explain the potential $600 cost of some inspections.

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