By Matthew Liebenberg
The environmental cleanup costs for the City of Swift Current after a recent illegal dumping incident was a motivating factor in a decision to move ahead with a septage disposal rate increase.
Council members approved a notice of motion at their regular council meeting on Oct. 3 to advise the public of their intention to amend the septage disposal rates.
Septage is the waste material pumped from septic tanks and then disposed at one of the City’s wastewater lagoon cells, which is located just behind the East landfill site.
The City’s septage disposal rates have not changed since the last revision of the water and wastewater bylaw in 2001. It is therefore set to increase by close to 250 per cent on Jan. 1, 2023. Council members expressed support for the rate increase.
Councillor Ryan Plewis noted the City’s septic disposal operations fall under the water and wastewater utility, which is run on a breakeven basis. It therefore cannot be subsidized by general taxation or property taxes.
“What has happened over the course of time, because we haven’t made these adjustments more frequently, is that the cost of doing business outpaces the price that had been charged,” he said with regard to the septic disposal operations. “So the people who were having these services provided were getting a pretty good deal for what was happening for the services that they were getting, because that utility has to run on a breakeven basis. The result of that is that anybody else who was using the water and wastewater utility was essentially subsidizing that portion of it.”
The current septage disposal rate is $0.86 per cubic metre. City General Manager of Infrastructure and Operations Mitch Minken noted the disposal rates vary widely across the province. Swift Current’s existing rate is the lowest in the province and the City of Regina’s rate is the highest at $15.72 per cubic metre.
“Yorkton has a similar septic disposal system to ours and their rate is $2.89 per cubic metre, with customers charged for the full capacity of the truck per visit,” he told the meeting. “Charging per full truck volume every time the septic dump site is used is a standard practice found in other municipalities as well.”
The purpose of the septage disposal rate increase will be to align the City of Swift Current’s fee with the provincial average and to adequately cover cost. The rate will therefore increase to $3 per cubic metre on Jan. 1, 2023. The rate will increase with 50 cents a year later to bring the fee to $3.50 per cubic metre in 2024. This will be followed by yearly increases in accordance with other water and wastewater rates.
“The revenue from septic disposal will be used to cover the cost of operations, including road/pad maintenance, gate/fence maintenance, general site cleanup, dredging and site improvements, and administration costs of supervising, account maintenance and billing,” he said. “A minimum of $2.37 per cubic metre is required to cover costs.”
Minken said during a media interview after the council meeting the rate increase is higher than the minimum to recover cost to ensure sufficient funds are available.
“We just want to build a little of a reserve in there to handle some of these situations that come up if we need to do a little extra dredging or if we have a spill that we got to clean up,” he said. “This will just allow us to have some funds there to be able to deal with those emergencies.”
The City knew the septage disposal rate has not increased for quite some time, but did not realize it has fallen that far behind the rates of other municipalities.
“So once we found out it was a little that far offside when we went looking at other places, we decided it was time to make a move,” he said.
The recent cost to clean up illegally dumped petroleum product at the City’s wastewater lagoon served as additional motivation to proceed with this septage disposal rate increase.
“We’ve been looking at it for a bit, but the dump that happened where we had some oil dumped in there really brought to the fore that we need to have some funds in order to be able to do a cleanup like that if we’re unable to determine who did that and to be able to charge them back,” he said. “So we need to cover our cost of operations and to be able to absorb something like that happening.”
There are only a few septic tanks still in use within Swift Current and businesses operating wastewater sumps on their premises will also be impacted by this rate increase. Most of the septage disposal at the City wastewater lagoon originates from the surrounding rural areas.
“It’s qualified companies that’s doing it,” Minken said. “We’ll be giving them notice and they’ll be passing this on to their customers. The $3 per cubic metre is a small portion of the total charge that they would charge a customer. So that increase, even though it’s a high percentage increase, really isn’t that material to the person who’s getting their load picked up.”