With rising water costs prompting some property owners to ask to have their connections to the system terminated, water district commissioners are re-examining their policies.
“As water costs go up people will not want to pay,” said district manager Dan Bourks at the district’s June 12 regular meeting. The question is, he said, who pays for the water system as property owners opt out? And at what cost can they reconnect at some later point?
“At this point we don’t have a clear policy,” Bourks said. “We’re working on that.”
Commissioners considered a draft policy under which property owners could request termination of water service and the removal of their water meter for a $300 fee. They would pay their base rate per month until the end of the current billing year, after which their water bills would stop. To reconnect to the system they would need to pay the $2,150 reconnection fee and the difference between the general facility charge (GFC) at the time of disconnection and the GFC when they applied to reconnect to the system.
“Is there some sort of statute of limitations?” asked commissioner Scott Hackleman, suggesting an accruing fee for reconnection to reflect the cost of maintaining system capacity to serve the property. “We’re not really taking it back. We’re still reserving water for the property,” he said. “It’s not like turning on and off a switch.”
Bourks agreed.“There’s a fixed cost to making the water available, whether you use it or not,” he said. Sixty percent of the fixed cost is the cost of buying water from the Greater Vancouver Water District, which is a fixed cost by contract, regardless of the amount of water the Point uses, Bourks said. “Right now we have six million dollars worth of infrastructure, and $700,000 annually of water cost.”
Bourks said under the district’s water system plan they needed to build a system that would serve every property in Point Roberts, but only property owners connected to the system were paying for that.
“We’re under an obligation to serve all of Point Roberts,” he said. “We’re about 300 equivalent residential units (ERUs) shy right now and that’s one of the reasons for the Blaine project,” he said.
The district is currently working with the city of Blaine and Birch Bay Water and Sewer District on the selection of a consultant to undertake a feasibility study looking at the possibility of connecting to the Blaine water system through an underwater pipeline. If it were possible, Bourks said, it would be a $15 million project but it would lower water costs significantly and increase capacity.
“Right now our policy is basically once you’re connected, you’re connected and that’s that,” Hackleman said. “Maybe we don’t need to change that policy. Their only alternative would be to simply not pay their bill and they go down a different road.” The district recently approved a policy to place a lien on properties with delinquent accounts.
Bourks suggested property owners could be billed for time off the system when they applied to reconnect. “If you disconnect for 10 years you pay 10 years worth of water costs,” he said. “That’s another option.”
Commissioners agreed to ask district legal counsel about options to ensure people who disconnect pay their fair share if they reconnect to the system. They also directed Bourks to draft a letter to property owners requesting disconnection based on the financial ramifications if they chose to reconnect. “You can do whatever you like but in the end you’re going to pay,” said commissioner Bill Meursing.