A utility bylaw has caught the village of Delia in hot water after a business reported to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) of possible discrimination.
An appeal of Utility Charges by Heide Peterson and Yvon Fournier, owners of weekend coffee shop Mother Mountain Tea House in Delia, was submitted on April 2, 2019.
They requested that the AUC disallow all water, sewer, garbage and landfill utility charges, including interest, from June 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019, that the Village had applied to Mr. Fournier’s utility account.
In addition, they requested that the property be returned to “grandfathered status.”
On Tues. Oct. 1, the Alberta Utilities Commission came to a conclusion, finding the water, sewer, garbage and landfill service charges at issue in this appeal, from June 1, 2018, to present, are discriminatory and that all fees, roughly $700, within that time frame were to be paid back to the business owners.
“Well, of course we are pleased. There was a lot of work. I think it was wrong what they did putting that bylaw in,” said Peterson.
Ms. Peterson and Mr. Fournier own a commercial property in Delia. Ms. Peterson advised that, from 1980 to May 2017, the property was vacant and not receiving utility service.
However, commencing in June 2017, the property was leased to a commercial business for a one-year term.
She said they requested Delia provide utility service to the property, and gave a copy of an application for utility services for the property, dated July 31, 2017, signed by Mr. Fournier.
When the lease ended and the property was once again vacant, she informed Delia they no longer required utility services at the property.
The water service to the property was disconnected at the end of May 2018.
Later on, Delia administration informed them that, regardless of the disconnection of water service, they were still required to pay for full utility services, pursuant to their utility rates bylaw that was passed in April 17, 2017.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mark Nikota explained that the village was trying to make the best of a bad situation by implementing this decision.
At the time council found it necessary to make sure the village was recouping expenses to maintain the utility system even if property owners weren’t using the services.
The understanding was that if enough people disconnected the service, the remaining residents would have to pick up more of the expenses to repair and replace aging infrastructure.
In reality, only six properties, two commercial buildings and some snowbird residential, have been given their money back.
Since the village only has a population of 216, the effects of having multiple people disconnect from the water service would be a noticeable hit to revenue rather quickly.
“Any municipality, you have to cover the cost of providing the service,” said CAO Nikota. “It’s no different than the power bill and power line and all that kind of stuff.
“There is the power you use and the money that it costs to keep the power poles in the ground. So it’s the same with water and sewer. You need to pay for the pipes whether people are using the water or not.”
There had been a number of properties that have not been in use for at least 20 or more years, so council felt grandfathering them in would be sufficient.
Research was conducted by the AUC of other municipalities to see if property owners that weren’t previously getting charged fixed rates should be charged going forward.
It was found that many municipalities ‘grandfathered’ the change, meaning owners that weren’t getting charged, would not be charged until the service was connected.
As for the CAO, he saw reasoning on both sides of the argument.
“I totally get how people are like ‘Oh, wait a minute. I’m not using a service, why should I pay for it?’ So it was a tough decision and that is where the grandfathering, we were trying to balance both sides so I mean do you like to lose a decision? No. Absolutely not, it’s cost us time and money and all kinds of stuff. But at the same time, I saw where they were coming from so it is what it is,” said Nikota.
The next village meeting is set for Thurs. Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Council will be discussing the utility bylaw further.