Wood Buffalo municipality to increase bus fares, water rates in 2020

Transit fares and water rates will increase in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo next year after council approved a bylaw to change the fee structure.

Aside from utility costs, the municipality hasn’t increased or adjusted user fees in the last decade. 

Linda Ollivier, director of financial services, said the full cost of services hasn’t been recovered and the municipality is now playing “catch up.”

Overall, fees will go up by an average of 17 per cent starting in January 2020.

Rates for municipal water and wastewater services will increase by 10 per cent in urban areas and 15 per cent in rural areas.

Coun. Phil Meagher asked Ollivier why administration decided to increase fees now, when the region is in a mild recession. 

“It’s catch up on the back of taxpayers,” he said, “and some families can’t afford it.”

“The increase would be approximately 17 per cent, and that’s the last thing we need,” said Meagher. 

Ollivier called the timing of the increases “unfortunate.”

“I would like to say there’s a reason why, except that we could not find any records,” said Ollivier. “We need to be in a spot where if we need to do an increase it would be one per cent or two per cent.”

Bus fares will increase from $1.25 to $1.50 in urban areas. That brings up the cost recovery for transit services from seven per cent to just over eight per cent, Ollivier said. 

Some recreational program fees will change in July 2020 to accommodate programs that have already finished their registrations and are partway through their programs. 

Phil Meagher says the timing of the rate increases could cause financial stress to families. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo/Greg Halinda)

One contentious item on the proposed fee structure was work camp fees. A council meeting in May became heated when representatives of the oilsands industry fought against a proposal that included a massive fee hike for work camp permits. 

Under the new fee structure, work camp base permit fees will rise from the current rate of $250 to $2,000 in 2020. Operators will also be charged $1.50 per bed instead of  $1.25 per bed.  

Municipal administration worked with the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) and industry to come to the solution. 

Karim Zariffa, executive director of OSCA, said the fee increases are “certainly more reasonable than they were back in May.”

He said he is still working with administration to develop timelines and would like permits to be granted for five- or 10-year periods.

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