On September 30, the Commission filed its ruling and dismissed Mr. Audia’s appeal.
“We wanted a bylaw that was fair to all residents and when council made this decision it was based on research from other municipalities. Beginning in 2008 the town took steps to inform water and wastewater customers with two public open houses as well as through distribution of bulk mail brochures sent to all mail boxes in the town of Drumheller,” said Mayor Bryce Nimmo. “The changes introduced in the 2010 bylaw were a continuation of the process that started in 2008.”
As owner of a multi-unit property, Audia was charged for having one hook-up and paid the regular consumption charges for water and wastewater. Under the rate structure in the bylaw passed in January of this year, each unit on his property is charged the base fee for water and wastewater. With more than 100 units on his property, his bill went up about $2,000 over night.
He was not able to pass this rate hike on to residents for at least six months as by law, and he was waiting until the process of the appeal was exhausted before he implemented a hike.
There was a public hearing into the rate structure on June 22 of this year. Other multi-unit property owners including Ray Page, Ed Lehn and Chris Cassidy joined Audia to make submissions. For Audia, it is the people living in these units that are bearing the brunt.
“The most important question is, who are they raising the rate for? For common people that live in the park trying to etch a living out of their work,” said Audia.
The Commission found in the end the rates were not discriminatory.
While the Commission found that upon third reading of the bylaw, it was properly enacted, Audia feels council did not follow due process. He would have liked to have seen more public consultation rather three unanimous reading in one sitting.
“It’s legal, but not just, according to our heritage, the British commonwealth and our tradition,” he said.
The Commission did find fault with the town in making new rate structure retroactive, but felt it would be more costly to now make an adjustment. The bylaw was passed on January 18, however the new rate structure came into effect on January 1.
“The Commission finds that the Town of Drumheller improperly imposed Bylaw 07.10 pursuant to section 43 of the Municipal Government Act for those days which precede passage of the bylaw. More specifically, the Commission finds that Bylaw 07.10 was improperly imposed for the 17 calendar days before it was passed," states acting Commissioner Thomas McGee in his decision.
“However, the Commission considers that it will not exercise its discretion pursuant to section 43 of the Municipal Government Act with respect to this improper imposition because any benefit which may arise from disallowance or variance of charges improperly imposed retroactively for a relatively short period of time, either to Greenwood Mobile Park, or to other customers, would likely be offset by the potential creation of increased administrative cost, administrative burden, and confusion which the Commission considers would likely occur, to the detriment of all customers.”
One other item that upsets Audia is he believes the Town is selling water at cut rates to neighbouring municipalities. He says Kneehill is receiving water at $0.75 per cubic meter and the Drumheller Institution is receiving water for $0.55 per cubic metre and only paying 50 per cent on wastewater. Residents of the Town of Drumheller currently pay $1.5411 per cubic metre for water and 80 per cent of $1.6005 for wastewater.
The Commission stated in its ruling that regional contracts are beyond the scope of the appeal in assessing whether any rates, charges or tolls imposed by the bylaw are discriminatory or improperly imposed.
Audia goes on to say institutions such as senior lodges and schools have a different rate structure.
He has no problem with care and educational institutions being subsidized, but he says it should be through taxes and not through water rates.
At this point Audia is going to wait for the results of the current Municipal Election and try to work with the Town of Drumheller to reach an agreement. He is not opposed to using the courts if it comes down to it.
“If I exhaust all possibilities, we’ll go to court, I have done it before,” said Audia. “The good thing about the appeal is it has sharpened the arguments on both sides, it has crystallized the arguments.”