By GLADYS KELSEY, DEBBY WRATE, DENNIS HAYDEN, JIM DICKINSON AND JUDY THOMAS
As homeowners faced with an 11,870 per cent increase in our water tax, we read with interest the March 15 Driftwood article on the present and proposed water tax increases for our community. We wish to say “thank you” for bringing this unjust, unwarranted and unsubstantiated tax hike to public attention.
To be clear, we are not objecting to a fair increase in our water tax. We understand the North Salt Spring Waterworks District may need more money to do its job. But that extra money must come through just and reasonable rates. That is not what we have. What we have is a proposed set of increases that, by 2020, will raise the water tax we pay by close to 12,000 per cent. At the same time, single-family-homeowners elsewhere in the district have had no increase. Apparently the trustees’ plan is to raise more money by increasing the tax on the one group unable to defend themselves — Brinkworthy homeowners — the homeowners without a vote. This is taxation without representation and a violation of basic democratic principles.
The water district claims the proposed tax hikes are fair because they will result in Brinkworthy homeowners paying the same tax as single-family homeowners outside the park. But, in fact, that will grossly overcharge Brinkworthy homeowners because it will require them to pay twice for many services.
Look, for example, at customer service costs. Those are the costs of preparing and managing bills, collecting accounts, etc. Our park creates only one customer service cost for the water district since it only gets one bill. But under the NSSWD proposal our homeowners will have to pay that amount 137 times, once for each home. That, in spite of the fact that the park managers do all that work and we will continue to pay them for that service.
Another example of how this results in a massive overcharge is in assigning us the costs associated with the end-of-the-line part of the delivery system. NSSWD incurs a lot of costs making sure all those pipes are in place and properly maintained. If there is a problem with the delivery in some neighbourhood, they have the service people that come in and fix it. All that costs money, and the users of that part of the system should expect to pay for it. But we don’t have any of that system in Brinkworthy. The pipes and other infrastructure are owned and operated by the landlord. We already pay him for all those services.
The water district proposal is that we continue to pay our landlord for all the investment, maintenance and servicing of our water pipes, but also pay the NSSWD for these services they don’t provide us. Once again our homeowners will pay 137 times for a service they don’t receive.
These are just two examples of the many ways costs are not fairly allocated by the district’s proposal. What’s the answer? We have tried to talk to them about the problem in an effort to work together on a more equitable approach for the future, one in line with the directive from the provincial government ministry that says: “Whatever the basis of taxation chosen, it should be based on an equitable allocation of costs that can be explained to the landowners.” We do not have such an equitable allocation of costs. Nor can we get the district to attend a meeting to explain what they’ve done.
Normally the answer would be “vote ‘em out.” But here’s where the rubber hits the road: The district has determined that we have no vote. We are defenceless. The seniors who can’t afford another $600 a year for vital water service are very concerned and are looking for help. It looks like they will have to depend on their Salt Spring neighbours. Thanks to all who have already expressed their support.
The writers are executive members of the Brinkworthy Homeowners Association.