With the hope of resolving financial issues with the Pemberton North Water System (PNWS), council gave the initial readings to a bylaw allowing the legal means to shut the water off for users outside the village boundary on Dec. 31, 2013.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) has accumulated a $450,000 deficit in water fees since the Village of Pemberton doubled rates in 2007. Despite a last-minute plea from Area C director Susie Gimse on Tuesday to put a halt on the bylaw, council gave it three readings and plans to adopt it next meeting in an effort to spur the sides to reach an agreement.
The village has been supplying water in bulk for the PNWS for more than 20 years without a formal operating agreement. After an independent study of water rates, the village began invoicing for $1.04 per cubic metre but the SLRD has continued to pay at the old 52-cent rate. A staff report stated that the unpaid funds “are increasing each quarter and represent a significant and increasing operational and fiscal risk.”
Gimse, who was a late addition to Tuesday’s agenda, pointed out discrepancies in water costs for those living inside and outside the Pemberton boundary and asked for the village to clarify why the rate was doubled.
“Our challenge has been trying to understand what makes up the rate, justifying the rate and understanding the background information,” said Gimse. “We’ve had challenges in terms of accessing that information and it’s really hard for us to move forward effectively without it.”
The staff report indicated that village officials will continue to work on a formal agreement with the SLRD over the next year, and Coun. Mike Richman said he hopes those negotiations will be the focus.
“I don’t think anybody in this room wants to turn off water but … we have to protect our constituents,” said Richman. “I think the bylaw is necessary, but I want to impress upon staff that the motivation should be coming to an agreement.”
During question period, Gimse asked if council would consider a boundary expansion annexing PNWS-connected properties and the SLRD-owned infrastructure that would come with it.
“We are one community and we have this stupid boundary that really needs to be resolved,” said Gimse.
Sturdy responded by saying he and Gimse agreed to jointly develop a resolution for the SLRD board that would put “horsepower” behind an assessment of the boundary. However, he disagreed with her assertion that they had decided to resolve PNWS issues first.
The village is planning to conduct a review of water rates early in 2013.