There will be some changes coming to your water and sewer bill or your tax bill. Currently, all stormwater services are funded through the sewer surcharge. The creation of a separate fee for stormwater reflects the reality that stormwater costs are not related to water or water use, but are driven by rain and meltwater volumes and impervious surfaces like roads, buildings and paved surfaces. This fee will be charged to all properties across the city (except for agricultural and forested land), rather than only those receiving water bills. However, the stormwater fee will be discounted for households that are not connected to water and sewer (known as 'unconnected rural' properties) to recognize the fact that they receive different stormwater services at a different, and lower, standard.
Residents were informed of the City of Ottawa’s proposed Water, Sewer and Stormwater Rate Structure Review in the spring of 2016. Throughout April and March, the City shared information on the matter and sought feedback from residents. Throughout the consultation period, over 800 residents attended meetings or shared their feedback in writing on what they believed was important for the City to consider with a new rate structure. At the consultation meeting in North Gower on April 7th, approximately 250 residents attended. The public's feedback led to an eventual delay of the report so that comments could be properly reviewed and taken into account. Since then, staff compiled all the comments and worked with members of Council to finalize a report and its recommendations. On October 3rd, the City released its report and it was presented to the Environment Committee on Tuesday, October 18th at City Hall. Council approved the proposal on Wednesday, October 26th.
The history on this issue is incredibly important and stems from amalgamation. Prior to amalgamation, residents across every municipality contributed to stormwater management. Some paid for it through their general taxes, some through a specific stormwater rate and others as part of their sewer bill. The transition Board overseeing the implementation of the amalgamated City of Ottawa commissioned a report which provided recommendations on how an amalgamated city could assess properties for stormwater costs. That report recommended cost collection through either the general tax rate or a specific fee charged as a line item on your tax bill. The Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee, who was dealing with the issue at the time, chose neither. They presented their report to Council on July 11th and with no explanation given in the minutes of that meeting, Council voted to shift all stormwater costs to the water and sewer rate. This meant that some residents who used to pay for it no longer did and it also meant that residents who had always been paying for it started paying more. For fifteen years, that is the system the City has been using.
The consultations held in the spring laid out proposals to move away from that system and create a new rate structure where those who receive a service pay for that service. The main objective was to collect $42M across the City through a new stormwater fee, shifting those costs away from the water and sewer rate budget. Of that total, $8M is the amount of money spent on stormwater maintenance in the rural area. The feedback on that proposal was met with much opposition and plenty of input. This brings us to the proposal that was presented to Council on October 26th.
The proposal included a tiered approach in assessing properties for stormwater management. The tiers are based on level of service provided. For village residents on water and sewer in communities like Manotick, Richmond and Munster, you will only notice a change in how your bill is presented. There will be a moderate reduction in your bill on an average of $2/month. For property owners on private services, the proposed fee would be $4/month. This is something that you don’t currently pay and it would be paid annually on your tax bill (agricultural and forested lands will be exempt). This is down from the $6 or $7 per month proposal that was floated in the spring. The report also proposed a phasing in of the charge over four years, meaning you would not pay the full amount until 2020. The total amount collected through this charge will be $2M which will go directly toward the $8M spent annually on rural stormwater services.
During the consultation meetings, we also heard concerns about other matters such as infilling of ditches. When all residents contributed toward stormwater services, many of us were permitted to fill in their ditch provided it did not impede drainage. That permission was removed in 2003. As a result of what we heard, the report will recommend a review of the Ditch Alteration Policy with a view to develop a process to, once again, permit the infilling of ditches. This policy review will come to Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee in 2017.
The new rate structure is not perfect. There simply is no perfect way to collect fees on the basis of fairness. Each and every property contributes differently. Short of any perfect solution, we have this improved rate structure before us. Thank you to all community members who offered their input and helped us makes these changes.
For more information on the stormwater fee, and the water and sewer rate structure review, visit Ottawa.ca.