Water bills to increase as budget talks continue

Pictured is Prince Albert's water treatment facility. (Herald File Photo)

Discussion on water bills was a big part of city council’s budget discussions this week, with council approving an increase to the fixed portion of each water bill.

The average residential account will pay an additional three per cent more in 2022, 2023 and 2024, with the estimated total monthly cost increasing from $88.67 next year to $94.16 in 2024.

The additional money will help pay down debt and allow administration to plan for more projects in the future. 

“This is more of a budget to deal with the debt than it is to deal with an aggressive infrastructure program,” Mayor Greg Dionne said. 

The increase will generate an additional $2.8 million in revenue over the next three years, which would reduce the current $9.46 million deficit in the utility improvement fund to $6.64 million.

Infrastructure like pipes and treatment plants are the biggest cost for the city when it comes to water and sewer. Dionne said some people never think about that part system, and only notice the water coming out of their taps. Dionne added that Prince Albert’s water bills are not out of line when compared to other cities. 

“The reason I support it is we’re low when it comes to other cities and when it comes to taxation, we’re in the middle of the pack,” he said. “We have to deal with the debt. That’s what is hurting us today.”

He also suggested that people who want to balance out the additional fees can do so by reducing consumption, such as reducing the amount of times they water grass in the summer. 

For capital projects in the water utility, staff proposed $1.4 million for water main replacement, $1.3 million for year 2 of the waste water plant upgrade, $750,000 for sanitary and storm sewer replacement and smaller amounts for projects such as refurbishing the River Street reservoir, water plant upgrades, decommissioning the former raw water pump house and work on fire hydrants. 

Another $1.7 million will be paid towards loan principal for over $6.4 million in capital spending next year. 

Council also reviewed the airport budget. 

One of the big changes is an increase in staffing as Sunday flights resume. Staff schedules have been changed around to accommodate the additional flights. 

Change also means added revenues, as landing fees have been increasing with an extra $40,000 in revenue expected this year from that area alone. 

Increases to passenger facility fees should also net an extra $25,000 in revenue based on previous passenger counts and what is expected for this year and next year. 

Revenue from airport leases will drop by $60,000 after a review found Prince Albert rates were higher than comparable airports elsewhere.

Thursday, Dec. 2 marked the second and last day of council discussion on the water, sewer, sanitation and airport funds. 

With minimal changes made, council will now set another date to finish the general fund. If council makes cuts, this is where the lion’s share will be. 

Dionne said that reviewing the budget line by line for the second year running is work worth doing. 

“I’m very pleased. By doing it line by line, and get all the information in advance that we need, it did shorten the process,” he said. 

Questions were mostly answered in line descriptions, so much of the time was spent on lines that had projected increases or no explanatory notes.