Edmonton to track down, bill those not paying for stormwater services

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton, EPCOR  to track down unbilled properties'
City of Edmonton, EPCOR to track down unbilled properties
EPCOR says nearly $2 million in drainage services are being delivered for free in Edmonton, and it’s time to make those properties start paying their fair share. Jasmine King reports – Jun 24, 2024

There are properties in Edmonton — residential and commercial — that are using Edmonton’s stormwater and drainage services but are not being billed for them.

EPCOR told councillors this issue was identified in 2019, after Edmonton’s utilities were transferred from a city department to EPCOR in late 2017.

Now, EPCOR is identifying those unbilled customers and notifying them of upcoming rate increases.

The charges will take effect April 1, 2025.

Some unbilled customers don’t have a water account at all and because of that, there isn’t a way to charge them for drainage services. Others — about 1,200 properties — pay for water and sewer but aren’t being charged their share of the stormwater/drainage fee.

“This is about an equitable charging of stormwater,” said Susan Ancel, director of water planning at EPCOR. “The way rates are set is there’s a revenue requirement, and then that gets spread amongst the customers who are in billing. So, the more customers in billing, that reduces the cost for everybody.”

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In its report to the utility commission Monday, EPCOR said currently unbilled customers include some of the city’s properties (rec centres, community leagues, attractions) and most of the privately owned cemeteries and golf courses. Including those customers in the stormwater bill would result in $1.7 million in additional contributions, the report said.

There are other properties that aren’t paying for stormwater services, like parking lots, parks, vacant and underdeveloped land, EPCOR added.

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Edmonton votes to transfer drainage assets to EPCOR

In 2021, EPCOR notified the city and started notifying customers about projected bill increases. But the city asked EPCOR to delay implementation until 2025 to provide sufficient notice.

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“If you don’t have a water account, then you don’t have a drainage account,” Coun. Tim Cartmell said. “So, on your EPCOR bill, you pay so much for the water you use, and then as a proportion of that, you pay a sanitary storm charge and a drainage charge, which is effectively the overland drainage — the water that runs off your driveway into the street.”

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Epcor looks to take over City of Edmonton’s drainage department

According to EPCOR, the stormwater system includes thousands of kilometres of infrastructure like catch basins, ditches and culverts and ponds. The cost of this system is meant to be shared by all properties in Edmonton.

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“We have people that own property that don’t have a water service so they haven’t been paying the drainage bill,” Cartmell said, “and that’s about to change.

“Utilities have far more rigor and pay far more attention to making sure everybody pays an amount that is driven by an arithmetic algorithm and that there’s no changes to that, that it’s fair to everyone because utilities are very heavily regulated,” the councillor explained. “You make sure that you don’t overcharge or undercharge by even a single penny when you operate a utility. City departments are more inclined to be a little looser on those things. I think (EPCOR) inherited a file that they’re fixing.”

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Edmonton’s new zoning bylaw gave EPCOR the opportunity to examine which properties were being billed and which were not.

“Through that, we’ve identified a number of parcels that are basically collecting stormwater off their parcels into the system that should be in billing,” Ancel said.

“For example, a parking lot that doesn’t have a toilet with it, so they would not have a water or sanitary account. It could also be a vacant property,” she added.

“When the stormwater utility was first created about 20 years ago, the billing system was not able to bill unless you had a water or sewer account at that time. So, that was the direction of council 20 years ago. It was never brought back to council to talk about the other parcels.”

While it won’t save EPCOR or the city any money, per se, enrolling all properties in the billing will mean “a more appropriate and fair allocation” across all rate payers.

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“You might be a golf course that is not paying a drainage bill and now you’re going to get a bill,” Cartmell said. “You’re not going to be very happy about that. Your operating cost just went up. But if you’re a golf course that has been paying a drainage bill and your operating costs have been artificially high because somebody else isn’t paying their part, you have a different perspective.”

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Councillors are also wondering why certain properties were able to fall through the cracks for so long.

“That’s going to have to be figured out: why it happened before, why there was a bit of a perhaps a lack of regular applications of rates,” Cartmell said. “Who knows? The point is, it’s getting fixed now and that’s a good thing.”

“This goes back to a principles issue that if we all use something, we all pay for something,” Coun. Michael Janz said. “(If) we all benefit from something, we all should contribute to something. I found it perplexing, as a new councillor, to find out that there were certain properties that hadn’t been somehow being charged for their contributions to our wastewater system.

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“That was peculiar to me — that it had been a known problem for a while and also that there hadn’t been that action taken yet,” Janz added. “I was trying to get clarity on that.

“I understand that, in some cases, there’s new changes and they may need to engage with people and I fully support that. But I think, on principle, if you ask any Edmontonian, we all agree: if you use something, you should be paying for something.”

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