Bob Russell on utilities and MSI

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How much has your utility bill gone up?

The Gazette continues to hear from people upset that their utility bills have suddenly jumped.

It took two different iterations of council about two years to come up with a new utility fiscal policy. Council finally agreed to a new policy and associated rate-setting model last year.

Part of the new rate-setting model was a flat fee called a supplemental capital contribution. This is meant to build up capital funds for utility projects based on the next 10 years worth of projects.

While the new rate-setting model was praised for its transparency, controversy struck after a majority decision by council. A motion was vigorously debated that resulted in the phase-out over five years of the use of part of the city’s provincial grant called the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) from being used in utility projects.

That move in turn helped add to the supplemental capital contribution fee. While the 2015 fee was originally estimated to be an extra $14.16 a month, the removal of the MSI funds drove it up to an estimated average of $23.55.

Since the 2015 utility bills started going out, the Gazette has repeatedly heard from residents concerned about the rising price of utilities in the city.

Marlene Trithardt, who lives in what she said is a modest duplex and is single, was the most recent person to call.

“I don’t feel the average person can afford (the changes),” she said. She saw her most recently bill climb dramatically compared to her last one, though she did find out her water consumption had nearly doubled.

But her concerns about the rising costs of utilities in St. Albert remain, and she was concerned about those on fixed incomes. Not everyone has extra money handy to cover the costs, she said.

Others think council made the right decision by pulling MSI out of the utility capital projects. Dana Popadynetz is in favour of operating St. Albert’s utilities as an independent commodity, but he does have some issues with some of the other decisions council made.

For instance, deciding to make the supplemental capital contribution fee a flat rate rather than scaled to consumption.

“I think it’s a little bit regressive,” he said.

He also sees both sides of the debate as using a lot of rhetoric, and said council did a poor job explaining its decision to the public.

Question:

If elected, would you be in favour of re-opening the debate on the new utility fiscal policy that has seen utility bills jump an estimated average of nearly $25 a month?

Bob Russell

Yes, I would vote to continue using the MSI provincial grant monies on vital infrastructure such as sewer pipes and water mains rather than spending money on the $4.2 million St. Anne street extension. I also favour developing a new utility model that is as equitable as possible for the current St. Albert residents.

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St. Albert Gazette

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