The rising cost of water

Joan Butler
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The Town of Conception Bay South spun a familiar tale last week when it announced we have avoided another property tax increase and continues to have one of the lowest tax rates in the region.

At the same time, the newly elected mayor and council announced an almost 14 per cent increase in the water tax, bringing the cost for each property to $540.

The town, like others who use the regional water supply, are experiencing steep annual increases in water costs, and our town has opted to pass this onto residents again this year.

The increases for C.B.S. taxpayers have been significant, from $225 per unit in 2010, to the new rate of $540 for 2014.

The 2014 budget, announced Dec. 3, mentions the challenges of the annual water cost increases, but fails to mention the fact that the cost per household in C.B.S. has gone up 140 per cent in just four years.     

Whatever way the town wants to spin it, the increase means a 14 per cent overall tax increase in 2014 for almost all property owners in the town.   

The water tax only applies to those who have water and sewer services, which is about 90 per cent of households in the town. The provision of water and sewer has always been a costly priority for the town and it is costing taxpayers over $3 million annually to service the debt incurred to install the infrastructure. Now that most of the town is serviced, this basic service is becoming a very expensive one.

Instead of incorporating the water tax into the town’s overall tax bill — like the recycling and regional landfill costs — the town has separated the cost so that the property tax bill stays low — thereby convincing residents and potential ones that we have one of the lowest mill rates in the Northeast Avalon.

The water tax is just another indication of the problems of the province’s municipal tax system and why municipalities are asking for a fairer system, such as one based on sales and income taxes.  

Here in C.B.S., the $540 for water and sewer is per unit, so if the property has an apartment for a family member or for rental, the cost is doubled. Every household pays the same for the service, regardless of the size of the house and their use of water.  

With the rising cost of water, it makes sense for our town and others to explore the feasibility of installing water meters. With a water meter, households pay according to the use, giving residents full control over their annual water bills which is a fairer method of taxation.

Water meters are common features in Canadian households, however, not common in Newfoundland. According to Environment Canada, 72 per cent of Canadian households were equipped with water meters in 2009, up from 52 per cent in the early 1990s. The federal department says that those with metered households use 39 per cent less water than those with flat rate schemes, so there are obvious benefits to having water meters.  

For those households in C.B.S. that are still not serviced, the latest water tax hike may leave some wondering whether water and sewer is worth the cost. In addition to the water cost, these basic services translate into a higher property tax bill because the house and land are worth more in a serviced area.

The town needs to start exploring ways to reduce water costs because the flat fee per unit is just too expensive.

Residents should also refuse to accept that we have the lowest taxes in the region when our overall tax bill continues to climb because of water costs.  

Joan Butler is a lifelong resident

of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached by email at

Organizations: Environment Canada

Geographic location: C.B.S., Northeast Avalon, Newfoundland Conception Bay

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Recent comments

  • Jackie Barrett - Former Nova Scotian
    December 12, 2013 - 11:59

    The main reason why water rates are going out of control in many Newfoundland and Labrador towns are not only due to using flat annual rate charges, but also lack or regulatory control over this essential service. This lack of regulatory control and approval essentially gives every Newfoundland and Labrador community a license to excessively increase water rates anyway they want without consequences or sanctions from the government. The only way to stop towns like Conception Bay South (CBS) and Springdale from excessively increasing water rates at levels well above the national average annual inflation rate are to force these communities to get provincial government approval before being allowed to implement them. In fact, one province requires villages, towns, district, and regional municipalities along with their water commissions to get regulatory approval before raising water rates, and that is my home province, Nova Scotia. In the case of Nova Scotia, before a municipality is allowed to increase water rates, they have to apply for such increase before their regulatory body, the Utility and Review Board (herein referred to as UARB), and then go through a hearing involving the municipality and/or its water commissions and intervening parties. The UARB then decides whether or not the municipality gets approval to raise water rates; however, they usually won't get a full increase. Without regulations relating to water rates similar to Nova Scotia, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will continue to pay the price for municipalities like CBS, Springdale, and points in between raising water rates excessively without thinking about the negative consequences on its residents and economy. Therefore, to prevent what's happening in CBS and other Newfoundland and Labrador towns and cities from happening again, their government agencies, particularly the Public Utilities Board, should start regulating water rates as well as requiring municipalities to seek permission before getting a rate increase pending a hearing similar to Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board.