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September 21st, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 37
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Town utility rate increase update
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
It was the birth of a family business.

Its assets were a bright red trailer, a hand painted sign, a family run kitchen and lots of dogs and buns.

But on Aug. 31, the Taylor family boarded up their hotdog stand in Coleman due to a poorly written municipal bylaw.

“Unfortunately, we had to make the tough decision to close our season early due to the extreme increase in municipal utilities,” said Chris and Sally-Ann Taylor, the owners of Gimli’s Hot Dog Stand in a letter to council.

Their new utility rate would have “eaten up All of our minimal profits and thus made it unrealistic to try to stay open for the month of September.”

Last month, a number of Crowsnest business owners were surprised and dismayed by dramatic increases in the commercial water, wastewater and recycling fees charged by the municipality.

Businesses ranging from mom and pop operations operating on razor thin margins to the bigger Crowsnest businesses saw their bimonthly utility rates increase by over 600 per cent.
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“We are justifiably upset at such an increase,” said Linda Bolton, of the Riverview Condominium Association whose residential utilities increased by more than 100 per cent.

“Our bimonthly total will change from $109.29 to $593.68. While I completely understand increases occur, this is an unimaginable hike,” said Susan Douglas-Murray, owner of the Crowsnest Café and Fly Shop.

Many of the increases were due to the regrouping of businesses and residents into nine classifications based on their expected water usages. At a Governance and Priorities Meeting on Sept. 13, the mayor and council said the sizes of the increases had been unintended and that Bylaw 951, 2016 – Utility Rate Class Changes would need to be amended.

Brian Gallant, president of the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce, had previously asked council to suspend the utility fee increases until November 1 to give the chamber time to conduct an impact assessment.

However at a council meeting in August, CAO Steinke explained that the bylaw was a working policy and there was no way to suspend the payments. Council could however, offer a reimbursement to businesses on the next bill due November 15.
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Mayor Blair Painter said the anticipated increase in water tariffs was expected to be a comparatively manageable 7.5 per cent.

At the GPC meeting, council discussed ways to reimburse Crowsnest businesses for the misunderstanding.

• Legions and miners’ clubs could be reclassified.
• Seasonal businesses could have their accounts closed during their off-seasons.
• Trailer courts could be reclassified.
• Additional classes should be created for restaurants, which would be based on seating capacity.
• Meeting halls should be reclassified.

“I think it’s far better to admit that we made a mistake and take another serious look at this,” said Councillor Dean Ward. “If I’m a guy who wants to start a seasonal business here, I’m not even going to consider it anymore.”

“I know most of these places are running on a shoestring,” said Councillor Bill Kovach. “We have to look at the classes. We have to recover our costs but I don’t think we should be doing it at this kind of rate. It’s just not fair.”

Kovach added that introducing a metering system to measure individual businesses’ usages would be fairer to consumers. He suggested a few could be installed on select businesses for a pilot project.

A small group of citizens in attendance responded favourably to council’s suggestions

“I’m pleased with what I heard today,” said Coleman Legion president Ed Strembicki, “I think you’re on the right track and I can only say thank you.”
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September 21st ~ Vol. 85 No. 37
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