When I was elected as a trustee for HWD on the first ballot by an unusually large turnout of ratepayers at last April’s AGM, I had hoped to reduce our annual costs through cuts in administrative spending, and to provide greater openness and engagement via a public meeting.
At the Board’s monthly meeting on October 7, the Hagensborg Waterworks District adopted an operating budget for the upcoming year (2017). Readers who are served by the district should know that we will all be paying more for our drinking water and fire protection next year, in some cases a significantly greater amount. This is a result of a change in the formula which HWD utilizes to collect some fees.
It will now be based on the assessed values of each property within the district. In other words, the amount that is itemized on your property taxes for HWD will increase by an average of $130, according to Corporate Financial Officer Wes Abel. If your property is assessed at higher than “average” you will pay quite a bit more than that!
The original mandate to levy greatly increased fees came from a previous public meeting, where ratepayers chose to fund a point-of-entry water treatment system and related capital projects, beginning with a pilot project. That mandate has expired, and the pilot project by any measure has proven the point-of-entry treatment system unreliable and unaffordable.
Furthermore, as ratepayers we all agreed to an egalitarian system of fee charges; in other words, each parcel serviced by HWD would pay equally, regardless of assessed value. When the changes that have now been adopted by the HWD board were first suggested by CFO Abel, I felt these proposed changes were significant enough to require prior consultation with property owners. None of the other four Directors agreed with me.
During my short time as a trustee, I have been the sole voice for a more reasoned approach to our rate structure. To the best of my recollection, not a single suggestion has been put forward by any other elected trustee that would decrease the charges we pay. Among a number of specific cost cutting suggestions I made was one that would provide a discount to senior citizens, a practice common to a number of other small water districts. This idea was introduced more than two months ago, and at that time another trustee indicated that it had been considered by the board prior to my election.
During the period leading up to our October 7 meeting, the CFO had expended significant dollars preparing a plan to increase your property tax levy, but was curiously inactive when it came to researching the idea of discounts. He expressed concerns about how the administration of such a discount would be viewed by auditors, answers that could have been ascertained simply by contacting water districts that offer such discounts or asking me for particulars. He did neither. One trustee actually floored me by asking “why should we give discounts to senior citizens?”
Given this sad experience, it is obvious that no other HWD trustee, nor either of our administrative officers, has any interest at all in attempting to reduce what we pay. On the contrary, the change to the formula used to collect funds through your property taxes is a very fat cash cow that HWD is eager to milk.
Neither does anyone at HWD have any interest in being accountable to its rate payer community. A bevy of hackneyed excuses for not holding a public meeting flows whenever I bring up this matter: no one will come, nobody cares, folks can just look at the website if they need answers to questions etc. etc. But my favorite came from a fellow trustee, who groused that “no one would support a tax increase anyway.”
As with so much of the narrative that still governs such thinking, this is emphatically untrue! I was at that public meeting years ago when rate payers voted to give quite a lot of their hard earned dollars in support of a point-of-entry water system. I firmly believe that our rate payers deserve so much better from those whom they have elected to represent their most important interest: potable water!
I am embarrassed by the actions of my fellow trustees, and equally disappointed that I failed to move them even an inch in the direction of the changes you elected me to pursue.
Kevin O’NeillHagensborg, BC