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Sechelt’s 23% sewer fee increase could be lowered by gas tax funds

Without $27 gas tax offset, fees will rise from $494 to $607
Sechelt Municipal Hall
File photo of municipal Hall in Sechelt.

An increase of up to 23 per cent could be coming to Sechelt residents hooked up to the sewer system, though the amount could be less if the District of Sechelt receives extra gas tax funding.

The figure came in the latest sewer operating and capital budget update by financial services director David Douglas as part of ongoing budget talks at the district.

The residential user fee in 2020 was $494. To cover off the $476,428 needed for ongoing and one-time costs, this year’s proposed fee is $607.

Parcel taxes would remain the same at $274.

For 2021, $2.9 million in capital projects have been planned and a part-time position for the Water Resource Centre has been requested.

At the March 31 committee of the whole meeting, Douglas noted the sewer operating fund doesn’t receive enough revenue and a number of projects “need to be completed by 2021.”

The funding would cover the cost to upgrade membrane filters, the replacement of an ultrafiltration unit and the design of a sewer outfall, among other projects.

In a previous meeting, staff said the need for membrane and an ultrafiltration unit replacement aren’t likely due to a rise in development, but have arisen because of infiltration. The membranes should last between approximately seven to 10 years. Coun. Alton Toth acknowledged the district is “playing catch up” on the purchase.

Half a million dollars has been requested out of reserves to deal with septage solids and $150,000 would be spent, through reserves, for a septage closure plan.

Coun. Tom Lamb asked if new technology exists to reduce the cost of septage disposal. Staff said they are looking at long-term options for the fate of the Dusty Road site.

Staff also asked for pre-approval to move ahead with a $350,000 project to build a chemical storage facility for the Water Resource Centre, using MFA financing, and to move ahead with a $150,000 maintenance hole replacement project, which councillors approved.

Before the vote, Coun. Matt McLean noted the user fee increase was concerning and made a motion for the maintenance hole replacement to be covered with gas taxes rather than user fees.

“The federal government has made indications that they would like to double the gas tax this year,” he said as part of his rationale. Doing so would result in an approximately $27 reduction in user fees.

Council voted in favour of the motion, reverting to sewer user fees if the gas tax funds aren’t doubled.

McLean also made a motion to use pending gas tax funds to cover the chemical storage facility. “I recognize that MFA financing doesn’t hit us right away, but it does still add up over time,” he said.

Engineering director Kirn Dhillon said it wasn’t “immediately apparent” whether such a program would qualify for the funding, while Mayor Darnelda Seigers said she preferred to keep the funds for emergency costs that may arise during the year, especially since MFA financing rates are roughly less than two per cent.

After Dhillon’s and Siegers comments, McLean decided not to move ahead with the motion.

As for the operating and capital projects, all were approved to be incorporated into the budget, which is expected to get first reading, along with the user fee bylaw, in May.