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Halifax Water wants rate increase, but critics say taxpayers are overburdened

If approved, customers could see their water bills go up by as much as 5.8 per cent this fall

4 min read
caption Halifax Water estimates $4 billion dollars will have to be spent from 2019 to 2049, to keep up with changing regulations and environmental expectations
Adam McNamara

On Thursday, Halifax Water submitted a rate increase application that could see HRM residents paying 5.8 per cent more by September, with another 5.8 per cent increase in April 2021.

The application made to the Nova Scotia Utility Review Board (NSUARB) is the water utility’s first since April 2016. At that time, it was raised to 97.6 cents per 1,000 litres of water, and $1.75 per 1,000 litres of discharged wastewater.

In its application, Halifax Water said costs have increased since the last hike in 2016.

The utility cited spending more to maintain infrastructure and ensuring regulatory compliance, protecting the environment, and public health as primary concerns and reasons for the request

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Despite the increase, which would bring the average yearly cost of water services in Halifax to $832 a year per household, Halifax Water stated it would still be one of the lowest in Canada. The overall national rate is $982.

Paige MacPherson, Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), said in an interview that they hear from Nova Scotians all the time about how difficult it is to live here because of increased taxes.

She said increasing water rates will be yet another cost to already overburdened taxpayers.

“If they are going to be asking tax and ratepayers to pay more, then they need to demonstrate that they have cut their own costs,” MacPherson said.

“I looked at the Sunshine List from 2019. They’ve got 40 employees on there who are making well over $100,000. Their former general manager was making $265,000 a year, and that’s a lot of dough.”

caption The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Atlantic director says Halifax Water should cut its own expenses wherever possible before handing the burden on to taxpayers.
Adam McNamara

James Campbell, a spokesperson for Halifax Water, said even though they asked for close to a 30 per cent increase in 2013 for their 30-year infrastructure plan, further increases in rates can be expected, especially when dealing with ever changing regulations and environmental expectations.

“It’s a constant process of upgrading and improving assets as they deteriorate and need to be replaced,” Campbell said.

“For example, in the next 30 years, from 2019 to 2049, we estimate we’re going to have to spend $4 billion to deal with such things as growth, maintain compliance and adapt to climate change and its coming impact.”

A public hearing regarding the application will be held by the NSUARB and is tentatively set for June 1.

NSUARB spokesperson Paul Allen said that one of the ways concerned HRM residents can air their concerns is at the public hearing.

“The notice of hearing that comes out will include a period of time or a deadline by which people can write in their comment to the board or register to speak at a public session hearing,” Allen said.

“Procedurally, there will be an opportunity to comment on the application and the details on how to do that will be contained in a notice of hearing that will be issued shortly.”

MacPherson would like residents in HRM to know that they can hold public utilities such as Halifax Water accountable by showing up at the public hearings.

“If they have these kinds of costs that they could be cutting (from high salaries), then they should do that instead of downloading the costs on to taxpayers,” she said.

“At the very least, this hearing is on them to make the case to the people that they have cut the fat before passing those costs on to taxpayers who are already pinching their pennies.”

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Adam McNamara

Adam McNamara is a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has a passion for telling stories and informing the public on healthcare, education,...

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