Homeowners on the east side of Skaha Lake are preparing to do battle over a proposed doubling of their water utility rate.
Residents of the Heritage Hills, Lakeshore Highlands and Vintage Views subdivisions received notice in April that the operator of the privately owned utility that supplies water there had applied to the B.C. government regulator to hike the annual rate to $912.
Johnny Antjes, who last year assumed ownership of Lakeshore Waterworks, said he understands customers’ concerns, but needs to build up a contingency fund for the system.
“Nobody ever wants to see rate increases, but at the same time, the alternative to that may be service interruptions because we’re not keeping our system up,” Antjes said.
Lakeshore Waterworks, with about 250 connections, has been subsidized to date by its owners, he continued, adding the increase is meant to top up the utility’s $60,000 reserve for repairs and maintenance to “a few hundred thousand.”
Antjes noted that customers haven’t seen a rate increase for 10 years, and even if the price doubled, it would still be far less than what residents pay on the West Bench, where the average bill is about $1,800 annually, according to an estimate from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Doug Lychak, president of the Heritage Hills/Lakeshore Highlands Homeowners’ Association, acknowledged the need to save money in case the system needs repairs, but said residents aren’t prepared to buck up until they have a clearer understanding of the utility’s finances.
“We’ve asked for a lot of information, prior to any decisions being made about increasing rates, which hasn’t been provided,” said Lychak.
Homeowners were provided with a slim set of financial statements for the Lakeshore Waterworks that didn’t include explanations of management fees, nor a full accounting of past or planned improvements, Lychak said, adding water quality test results have also been hard to get.
“A lot of the numbers don’t jive, they don’t make sense,” he said.
“We just think there needs to be more transparency.”
The homeowners last year asked the RDOS to attempt to purchase the utility, but the area director said the two sides are far apart in negotiations.
Tom Siddon said the asking price was too high, and the RDOS won’t spend a dime until it knows more about the system’s health.
“We wouldn’t want to do anything without doing due diligence, so I can tell you, the bottom line is they’d virtually have to give it to us to take it over, in the state of uncertainty we’re facing,” Siddon said.
He also thinks the proposed price increase is too much, too soon.
“You can’t just double the rates like that. You have to cushion it and provide people some reason to believe this additional money is going to be put to good purpose,” Siddon said.
Water rates are regulated by B.C.’s deputy comptroller of water rights. The public comment period on the Lakeshore Waterworks application closed May 19. The comptroller can now request more information, call a public hearing or approve a smaller rate increase. A decision is expected within 30 days.
Lychak said his association sent a letter to the comptroller outlining its concerns, and would continue fighting the rate increase as proposed.