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Hamiltonians to get soaked again

By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

Hamilton residents can take some solace in their ever-rising water bills: they would be paying more for water if they and the city didn’t adopt any conservation programs to protect the precious commodity.

At their Dec. 7 general issues committee meeting, councillors agreed to raise the average cost of a household’s water bill by $24 for 2013. The 4.25 per cent jump means the average homeowner will pay about $602 next year, up from $578.

But city staff pointed out if the higher water rates had not been implemented starting in 2001, which encouraged residents to save water, homeowners would be paying an additional $117 on their current bill.

Dan McKinnon, director of water and wastewater operations, said if there were no conservative efforts by the city or the homeowner, residents would be shelling out more money to the city.

“Nobody likes to see increases that are double the inflation rate,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson. “But the public understands the need to have safe water and to improve the infrastructure.”

He said that, since 2004, homeowners have actually been saving 2 per cent each year because of the city’s conservation efforts. Eight years ago, when homeowners were paying on average $431 for water and wastewater, residents were using roughly 260 cubic meters of water. In 2013, city staff estimates homeowners will be using 218 cubic meters.

Mayor Bob Bratina said residents should look at what they’re paying for water and say a thank you for the low cost –  about $50 per month.

“We are in pretty darn good shape,” he said.

Added Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla: “It’s an investment. It’s very affordable, but necessary.”

Over the past few years, his area has been flooded repeatedly, forcing the city to make extensive repairs to pipes and sewers. The money raised through higher rates beginning 11 years ago have been directed towards funding repairs and upgrades to the city’s sewer infrastructure. Former city staff determined in 1999 that Hamilton needed to make the water and wastewater rates sustainable, or it would be unable to improve the aging sewer and water pipes.

There has been grumbling from some councillors and residents over the years, complaining about the rising water rates even though Hamilton homeowners are using less water than before.

Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson has urged city staff to provide some reward program for those people who use less water, while still penalizing homes that are gluttons.

“I see the bigger picture,” she said. “But it’s hard to go back to my Binbrook residents and tell them, ‘We are raising your rates.’”

The 4.25 per cent increase for 2013 represents the third consecutive year water and wastewater rates have jumped by that amount. In 2010, the rate rose by 4 per cent, followed by 4.25 per cent in 2009. In 2007, the rates skyrocketed by 7.3 per cent and in 2008 the increase was 8.9 per cent.

City officials pointed out that Hamilton’s average water rate remains one of the lowest in the area. Guelph’s average water rate is $786, while St. Catharines’s is $844, and Halton Region’s is $678. London’s rate is $938.

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