News

Holding tank hike to be phased in

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

An open septic tank. (Postmedia file photo)

An open septic tank. (Postmedia file photo)

SIMCOE  - 

Residents and businesses that rely on holding tanks will have time to adjust to Norfolk’s policy of 100 per cent cost-recovery.

Norfolk was ready to raise the fee for processing holding tank sewage from $10 a cubic metre to $20.29 a cubic metre in January.

Following a backlash dating back two years, Norfolk council this week reduced this to $12 a cubic metre.

The adjustment came with a warning that council will continue raising pump-out fees until full cost-recovery is achieved. As it stands, Norfolk pegs the break-even point at $34 a cubic metre.

“We definitely have a problem with the rate,” Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton said of the pending increase. “It’s a 104 per cent increase over the 2017 rate. We should phase this in over a longer period so these people can make adjustments.”

Norfolk County realized it was undercharging for pump-out waste in 2015 when a consulting firm said the true cost is $33.82 a cubic metre. This is the estimated cost for treating holding tank sewage at Norfolk’s wastewater treatment plants.

DFA Infrastructure International, of St. Catharines, pointed out that pump-out waste is much more concentrated than regular sewage. As such, it requires much more processing to reduce it to Ministry of the Environment standards.

DFA recommended a phase-in of the higher cost. However, at the end of 2015, council decided to introduce the higher rate all at once.

Council did so not understanding that cottagers, rural residents, marinas and campgrounds will pump out holding tanks at least once a month if not more. Some residents complained their annual sewage-management bill would be higher than their property taxes.

Residents and business owners have filled the gallery at Governor Simcoe Square on several occasions since the new rate schedule was announced. Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council – the last of 2017 – was no exception. Many of them hail from Port Rowan-area Ward 1, which is represented by Coun. Noel Haydt.

“The consultant recommended a seven-year phase-in and we didn’t do that,” Haydt said. “So here we are doing damage control.”

Not everyone is sympathetic to households and businesses on holding tanks. At $12 per cubic metre, ratepayers elsewhere in Norfolk continue to subsidize them at a rate of 64.4 per cent. As a result, Waterford Coun. Harold Sonnenberg does not support the gradual approach.

“I can’t ask one group to subsidize another,” Sonnenberg said. “Pay for the system you’re on.”

Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke favours the go-slow approach because full cost-recovery is too much of a jolt to the pocketbook.

Luke said council would never consider tripling the water and sewer rates of in-town residents over a three-year period. How then, he asked, could this be fair to people on holding tanks?

Simcoe Coun. Peter Black said this would be a fair assessment if the affected ratepayers were paying 100 per cent of their costs. But as it stands, Black says residents and businesses on holding tanks are receiving a subsidy.

“How can you say this is an ‘increase’ when the rate isn’t even at cost-recovery?” Black said. “It’s only an ‘increase’ when we get to full cost-recovery and then increase it.”

A typical pump-out at a residential property with a holding tank will produce nine cubic metres of septage. At $12 a cubic metre, this works out to $108 plus tax.

At $33 a cubic metre, the charge rises to $297 plus tax.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com