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Chase residents voice concerns with water rates as 2024 budget presented to council

Budget talk cut by rate woes

Chase residents frustrated about recent utility increases interrupted the village's chief financial officer during a council meeting Tuesday, asking questions about water rates while she gave her presentation about this year's budget.

Water and sewer rate increases were implemented late last year, along with a new flat consumption rate to fight broken water meters. The Village of Chase held an open house event last week in order to inform residents about the proposed 2024 budget, also providing the numbers from previous budgets. Some residents were upset by the format, and others said they left feeling unheard regarding their water rate concerns.

At the March 12 village council meeting, Debbie Lovin, chief financial officer, presented her report on the proposed 2024 budget, including an initial estimate for this year's tax increase.

“So this is our tax rate scenario as we stand today with the recommendations that we brought forward to council,” Lovin said. “It's a 9.86 per cent increase right now.”

She clarified this would mean an increase of $92 for the average resident.

During her report, she was interrupted several times by residents in attendance asking about water rates.

Mayor David Lepsoe told residents that he understood people were concerned about rates, but asked them to let Lovin finish her report.

“We realize that there are issues, and right now we're just going to let our CFO go through the budget and we realize that there might be changes needed,” Lepsoe said. “Right now we're just going through the procedure.”

Lovin explained the rate increases are necessary in order for the water system to fund itself.

“We have to get the system so it's at least breaking even, so it’s covering its costs basically,” Lovin said. “We've been running deficits, operational deficits for a number of years.

“It's not giving us any contingencies for the water system, and this could affect us in the future when applying for grants. If we can't show that we're able to maintain that system, then the province or whoever may wonder why they want to give us grants.”

She also included a breakdown of what the rates would look like if the village lowered the minimum consumption amount.

Currently, every household is charged for 60 cubic metres of water per quarter, unless they use more than that. Some Chase residents have been advocating to reduce that minimum consumption amount to 30 cubic metres per quarter.

“In order to do that and still maintain the same level of revenue, that would mean that we would need to increase the water consumption rate,” Lovin said. “Right now we have it at 98 cents per cubic metre. In order to generate the same amount of revenue, based on the data that I have right now, we would be looking at $1.20 per cubic meter.

“So that would affect anybody who uses more than 30 cubic meters in their homes right now, it's hard to say where the balance will be.”

About one hour into the budget presentation, Lepsoe requested staff stop the presentation and finish it at the next village council meeting.

At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, two residents spoke up during the public input portion of the meeting, raising various suggestions for the village to cut costs in order to lower water rates. Some of the suggestions included changing all staff to part-time hours, eliminating staff benefits, as well as eliminating all tax exemptions.

This marks at least the third consecutive village council meeting at which residents brought up water rate concerns during the public input period.

While the village is eying a near 10 per cent tax rate increase for 2024, the proposed budget is still open to amendments based on council's recommendations to staff.

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