Utility fee hikes better way to pay for sewage treatment, mayors agree

Victoria hopes region will adopt its strategy of basing taxpayers’ portion on overall water usage

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin has an answer for city taxpayers wondering how much they’ll have to shell out for sewage treatment.

“The average single family in the City of Victoria will pay about $360 (more) a year,” he said Wednesday.

Victoria, responsible for 23 per cent of the Capital Regional District’s share of the $782-million project, began collecting sewage fees based on water consumption in 2011, in anticipation of the expenditure.

Local governments in Greater Victoria will soon begin cost-sharing negotiations around paying the $281-million portion of the most expensive capital expenditure project in the region’s history. The seven affected municipalities need to agree on a funding model before work can begin.

The secondary sewage treatment program is set to begin development in early 2013 and will end the dumping of screened raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said paying for regional sewage treatment through property tax increases – one option up for discussion – may be unfair to residents who minimize their wastewater.

“If we go to the property tax model, then the University of Victoria and the two Camosun Colleges wouldn’t pay their share,” Leonard said.

By linking the increased fee to water utilities, properties with septic systems would also be exempted from paying for sewage services they don’t use, Leonard said.

Fortin agreed it would be a more equitable system than linking fees to property tax.

On Monday, the federal and provincial governments announced commitments of $253 million and $248 million, respectively, for the project.

At the same time, any cost overruns will fall to local governments.

The province plans to withhold its portion of the funding until the project is near completion in 2018.

CRD spokesman Andy Orr said the municipalities of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, View Royal, Colwood and Langford will likely agree on a funding model based on how much wastewater they produce and the age of their sewage infrastructure.

“So newer developments, like Langford and Colwood, may well have cheaper costs,” he said.

The sewage treatment project is comprised of three major elements – a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, piping system upgrades and a biosolids energy centre proposed for the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

The biosolids centre will be built as a private-public partnership (P3), which allows private companies to build and operate a facility, but also bear responsibility for any cost overruns.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who opposes the installation of the wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point, said the CRD should have made the entire project a P3.

“I really have a concern that we’re stepping beyond our bounds as local government. We shouldn’t be doing what private business can do,” she said.

The CRD already manages a wastewater treatment facility on the Saanich Peninsula for Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney.

Negotiations between municipalities for a funding model are expected to take place over the coming months and will include public input, Leonard said.

The CRD’s next step will be to hire a project manager and pass a bylaw that allows it to create a commission to oversee the project.

dpalmer@vicnews.com