Victoria’s new rainwater utility offers rebates, appeal process

Rates differ for commercial, residential properties

When the city launches its new storm water utility, homeowners who feel their bill doesn’t reflect their circumstances will be able to appeal.

The City of Victoria has already committed to the new utility, which, in principle, aims to charge property owners based on the amount of rain water they send down the drains. While the concept in theory has received widespread support, the billing formula is proving more contentious.

At a recent council governance and priorities meeting, the issue of how to bill for paved areas proved a sticking point.

In the draft policy, commercial and industrial property owners will be billed according to the amount of impermeable surface on their lots.

Residential homeowners’ bills, however, will not reflect this. They will be charged a standard rate based on the footprint of their house. The formula will not consider paved driveways or patios, which also contribute to rain runoff.

Staff do not have time to manually inspect 10,000 properties, said Ed Robertson, Victoria’s assistant director of engineering.

Coun. Pam Madoff objected to the draft policy.

“People that are already doing the right thing are being penalized,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard to embrace this, because we’re talking about fairness of user pay.”

Robertson defended the formula.

“Our statistical analysis showed there wasn’t much variation at all between property owners,” he said. Eventually, the city can take aerial photographs of residential properties to establish a more accurate breakdown of permeable and impermeable surfaces on individual lots, he added.

For people unhappy with their bills, there will be an appeal process, he said.

“The number of people who have to go through the appeal process will be big,” predicted Madoff.

Residents will also be able to apply for rebates for rain-retaining measures such as cisterns and rain gardens.

“There is a potential reduction of up to a third of your utility bill, based on the types of infrastructure on your site,” said John Sturdy, acting director of engineering.

“A subcommittee is looking at types of rebates (to see) which ones are doable with good financial return.”

If such investments by property owners don’t pay for themselves for 100 years – people are not likely to buy into them, Sturdy added.

People can apply for rebates on the honour system and staff will do random audits, like they do in Portland, Ore., Robertson said.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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