Kingston Council defers Utilities Kingston bulk water, wastewater fee changes

Countryside Councillor Gary Oosterhof speaks to his motion to defer Utilities Kingston fee changes. Screen captured image.

Kingston City Council has voted to defer the implementation of new bulk water usage and wastewater disposal (septage) charges, which were set to go into effect on April 1, 2023. At a meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 4, 2023, councillors supported a new motion brought forward by Countryside District Councillor Gary Oosterhof, which called for a pause on the fee increases that had been approved by Council back in March, resulting from budget deliberations

“The residents and businesses of Countryside have indicated that the fee increases are a serious matter of concern related to the additional costs to be incurred and they have not been informed of these increased costs,” read the motion, which called on Utilities Kingston to review the “cost analysis and implementation timelines.” 

During a meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023, councillors approved amendments to the bylaw governing water usage and wastewater disposal rates charged by Utilities Kingston. In terms of bulk water usage, Council approved an increase from $2.27 to $3.73 per cubic metre of water taken on a bulk basis, including “commercial water hauling operations.” At the same time, councillors also supported an increase in charges associated with wastewater removal. For non-industrial waste, a new fee of $20.00 per cubic metre was approved, up from the current charge of $13.07. Meanwhile, the fee for industrial waste was raised from $17.04 to $26.07 per cubic metre.

On Tuesday night, Oosterhof remarked on the essential nature of the services, despite the fact his motion came up after councillors approved the rate changes. “I recognize that this motion is a little unusual, [but] it’s a very important request for the rural community. We all know that water and wastewater supply [are] the two most critical services that every homeowner and business require[s].”

Oosterhof spoke in favour of the deferral, arguing the rate changes were not properly addressed when the budget was debated back in February. “The fee increases handed down were not adequately observed, or considered, or critiqued on budget night when they were presented to Council, and that is unfortunate. These increases applied were significant and will cause financial difficulties for everyone involved.” 

In terms of what a review by Utilities Kingston might look like, the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Lanie Hurdle, said, “My understanding is that [Utilities Kingston] is going to do a review in terms of the rates. They’re going to also engage with the stakeholders and bring back that information for Council’s consideration.”

With Oosterhof’s motion noting that constituents were “not informed” of the rate increases, Lakeside District Councillor Wendy Stephen asked if this was due to a “breakdown in communication.” Hurdle replied, “I don’t want to speak for Utilities Kingston… but, my understanding is they followed the same process for these fees as they did for all the other fees, which was to bring the information to City Council for consideration… The reports at that time are public, and this would have impacted all residents within the community.”

Indeed, multiple councillors who spoke to Oosterhof’s motion indicated the fee changes have become a concern for residents in their districts, as well, noting that the matter is not solely a concern for rural residents.

“I think, maybe, there was a different expectation or a different outreach that could have been utilized, and I think that’s why this motion is coming forward,” Hurdle added. The CAO then went on to reiterate that the communication strategies regarding the bulk water usage and wastewater fee increases were the same as all other charges approved by Council during the budgetary process. “I would say, like all the other fees that were included in the budget and that Council approved, there wasn’t anything that was done for the other fees that hasn’t been done for these ones. They were treated the same way.” 

Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn noted that, when budget increases are considered by Council, such fees are often discussed using a percentage as opposed to a firm dollar amount. “Oftentimes, our residents aren’t clear on what that impact is until they realize [the full dollar amount]. Perhaps that’s just something to consider with things like utilities: that we give an absolute dollar value or a range.” 

The new motion passed with unanimous support from Council. Utilities Kingston has until the end of the third quarter of 2023 to review the fee increases, with implementation now set to take place on January 1, 2024. 

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