Changes to sanitary sewer charges in Penticton mean that renters, people living in strata units or mobile home parks are going to need to have some talks with their landlords about how the changes will affect their rent.
Along with changing how the charge is calculated, the City of Penticton has also removed sanitary sewer from the city property tax bill and the charge shifted to monthly utility bills, starting in January 2017.
That has created some concern and questions for residents, many of who are just finding out about the change. In June, the city sent out notices advising their customers of the change, but that only went to current payers, not to all the people affected by the change, which includes renters, along with people living in buildings managed by strata corporations and mobile home parks.
“We sent out notices to all our customers, but those people might not be our customer because they are not paying the water bill,” said Mitch Moroziuk, director of operations.
Keith Johnson lives in a mobile home park, and said he only found out about the changes in July, after the park manager received a letter and advised residents.
“That was my first real big issue, that the city had not informed all the people that were affected,” said Johnson. “I felt like all the people here in the park should be notified that this change is coming.”
Johnson, added that the city has worked to rectify the error with public notices in the paper and in their monthly newsletter, noting that Tina Lee, the city’s communications officer had featured the changes prominently.
But Johnson is also concerned about how the new charges are being calculated.
“Under the existing system, we charge for sanitary sewer based on the number of fixtures you have in your home, based on the value of your land and property, which really has nothing to do with the amount of sewage you generate,” said Moroziuk. The new system, which is based on water usage and the size of the water line to the property, he explained, should be more fair.
“A car wash could be of moderate value of land and buildings, with very few fixtures and they generate the most sewage of anyone pretty much in the city,” said Moroziuk. “Alternatively, you could have a great big house, worth a lot of money, with five bathrooms but only two people living in it.
“They are paying a lot for sewer but they are not generating much. There is a relationship between the water you use and the sewage you generate.”
Revenue supervisor Amber Coates said the new system isn’t perfect, but should be more fair, and mirrors other cities where water meters are common.
“I’ve heard a whole variety of feedback. Pretty much any viewpoint you could imagine, I have heard. I do think in general terms, it provides a much more realistic cost against the people using it,” said Coates.
Concerns have also been raised about shifting the charge to the utility bill, but revenue supervisor Amber Coates said that is within the city’s mandate.
“When it comes to your utility bill, anything that is a city service can be charged to your utility bill” said Coates. “For example, we could do garbage recycling, storm sewer, those are all considered city services, so those can be billed on a utility bill as opposed to a tax bill.”
That leaves it up to the parties involved to figure out how the change will affect rents, she said.
“When it comes to a tenant account on utilities, that is part of the rental agreement between the property owner and the renter. They need to discuss it with their landlord, and it is part of why we started putting out the communications so early about the changes is to give them a chance to have that discussion and make any kind of changes required,” said Coates. “Even if the utilities are held in the owners name, they are going to want to look at how that might impact the rent overall, depending on their water usage, whether they estimate it will go up or down.”