As we hear more about the stormwater fees that are being billed to Cobourg residents, we thought an update would be appropriate.
Very few municipalities in Ontario have stormwater management fees.
Cobourg decided they should join the larger cities and ended up with a myriad of complaints.
Although many people are seeing a minimal impact to the fees being charged, some are seeing upwards of $15,000 for properties that have minimal use or even no use of Cobourg stormwater management infrastructure.
Many people have noticed the Stormwater line item on their latest utility bills has been removed. We are not surprised as people have told us about billing errors on their utility bills.
St Michael’s Cemetery pays no property taxes but now that stormwater costs have been removed from property taxes, they are now incurring a $3,000 charge. As they say in a letter to the Town, the Cemetery consumes a limited amount of hydro and water, and no one lives on the Cemetery grounds.
The Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) received a bill for $5,000 and have asked the Town for an exemption. Otherwise, they will increase their levy to Cobourg to cover the cost. That means the Town will bill GRCA $5,000 and GRCA will turn around and charge back the $5,000. A perfect example of government inefficiencies at work.
What should be done?
We suggest returning to including stormwater management costs in property taxes. It eliminates the cost of billing, errors, and inequitable billings to customers like cemeteries and large property owners. If Premier Doug Ford can revert his decision on Greenbelt Development, Council can do the same.
Will they? Not likely.
What then should be done is what should have been done in mid 2022 when this was first proposed. Council should have asked questions of Town staff on what other municipalities with stormwater fees are doing and what problems they ran into. This is what can be referred to as “best practices”.
Learn from others and learn from their mistakes.
In Mississauga, charges are calculated based on the amount of hard surface on your property. A stormwater assessment is updated based on the most recent aerial imagery available to the city.
In Ottawa, stormwater rates are based on the total estimated hard surface area between residential properties and industrial, commercial, and institutional properties. Farms, vacant land, and forested lands were exempted from paying for stormwater pending a future review.
As some Councillors have stated, Town staff are the experts, and these Councillors will listen to them without questioning what they have recommended. After all, Town staff are the experts, and the public is not.
Somehow Cobourg knew better and decided to do their own thing.
How is that working out for all of us?