Nova Scotia

Halifax Water UARB proposal could reverse ditch tax exemption

Hundreds of people around Halifax who beat the so-called ditch tax on appeal could be facing stormwater bills once again.

More than 700 rural property owners previously exempted could end up paying fees

More than 4,000 rural homeowners are appealing the so-called ditch tax, arguing stormwater from their properties doesn't run into ditches or drains maintained by Halifax Water. (CBC)

Hundreds of people around Halifax who beat the so-called ditch tax on appeal could face stormwater bills once again. 

That's if Halifax Water's proposed stormwater rates are accepted by the province's Utility and Review Board. 

More than 700 homes and almost 20 businesses would see their fee exemptions reversed by the new rules, according to a Halifax Water document filed with the board Monday. 

"It's not only disappointing, but it seems unbelievably undemocratic," said Pamela Lovelace, a community activist who's been fighting stormwater fees in Hammonds Plains. 

"It's really disappointing to know the system can play with people in that manner."

Halifax Water says it's spent more than $835,000 processing 4,026 appeals from businesses and homeowners who claim stormwater from their rural properties doesn't drain into ditches and culverts maintained by the utility. 

Almost 1,400 have been successful so far.

But the new rules would apply anyway to properties with a driveway culvert or to properties where Halifax Water diverts stormwater upstream, Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell said. 

"If the new regulations determine these folks are indeed receiving storm water service, then they'll in fact be billed for it," Campbell said. 

Halifax Water wants the controversial stormwater fee added back on more than 700 properties. (CBC)

That's discouraging, Lovelace said, because the appeal process was stressful, time consuming and expensive for homeowners who took time off work to meet engineers on their properties. 

"Once an individual has gone through a very specific and defined process, and that process has come to an end, that process should be respected," she said. 

The current system charges property owners an average rate for stormwater runoff. Proposed rules use a sliding scale based on the size of impermeable surfaces, such as asphalt, on the property. 

Halifax Water says that would mean:

  • 2,582 or 3 per cent of properties would be exempt from stormwater fees
  • 51,596 or 56 per cent of properties within the stormwater boundary would see their stormwater fees somewhat reduced
  • 36,555 or 40 percent of properties would see stormwater fees rise 

Businesses would still see stormwater rates calculated according to the size of the impervious areas on their properties, Halifax Water said. 

Those businesses also could earn credits by taking measures to reduce runoff during peak periods. 

The Halifax Port Authority and Dartmouth Crossing have applied for intervenor status at rate hearings scheduled for February 2016. 

"The Halifax Port Authority is responsible for large areas of property within HRM from which stormwater drains directly into the harbour," said port authority spokesperson Lane Farguson. "As part of our responsibly, I'd just want to ensure the rates paid are fair and equitable for the services that are received."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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