The embattled sewer system for Heritage Hills on the east side of Skaha Lake cleared the first stage towards being brought into public ownership.
After close to 45 minutes of debate and a split vote among the directors of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, the decision was approved for a due diligence study of the sewer and water systems before any takeover negotations will be considered.
That study will look at their state as well as how much they will need in upgrades and repairs to bring them up to current standards.
The sewer and the water systems for Heritage Hills and the neighbouring Lakeshore Highlands are currently privately owned with 120 sewer users and 325 water users, and the discussions about the RDOS taking over the utilities was kicked off with a petition from the current owner in November this year.
The state of the system has been an issue brought to light in recent months, with developments and lots sitting empty after the Ministry of Environment stepped in over issues they saw with the sewer system.
Ahead of the decision, Susan Bigue spoke to the board on behalf of the residents and lot owners, saying that majority were in support of the utilities being taken over and ready to shoulder the costs for repairs and upgrades in the future. She also pointed out that under a public system there are options to reduce the impact to residents.
“Under the current private ownership, all repair costs are put back to the users,” said Bigue. “But, in public ownerships such as the RDOS taking over private utilities, provincial grants and loans are available to assist in offsetting the costs to ratepayers as well any grants for studies to facilitate the conversion.”
The $150,000 for the study was one of the main points of debate, with some directors taking issue with the payment of it from the RDOS’s administrative reserves.
It was pointed out that when costs are incurred for studies or projects, they can usually be attached to existing services, the fact that the studies are to examine private systems mean there was no service to charge the costs to, and in the end the decision was to use the reserves to make sure the costs didn’t increase taxes.
The study is not expected to be completed until mid-2023, which will then be followed by public engagement with the users of the systems. If the users approve at that point, it is expected that the transition to a public system during mid-to-late 2024.
Under the RDOS’ current acquisition policy the district pays just one dollar to bring private systems into public control.
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