Paying for Water Etc.

Ken Gray over at The Bulldog blog cites the following from a Conference Board study:  “Water charges based on the value of property-or any other fixed measure that is not directly related to water consumption-cannot provide consumers with clear price signals,” said Len Coad, Director, Environment, Energy and Technology. “A cultural shift is required in how we manage our water system. Instead of relying on the tax base and allowing users to pay a below-cost price, those who use the service should pay the full cost of water, including capital expenditures.”

I agree fully. The genius of our society is the marketplace, where prices are set and goods and services supplied to those who buy them, rather than according to political fiat. Governments are too often in the habit of taking over a market, screwing up the pricing to meet some social / political goal, making themselves a monopoly and then generating “rent” (excess prices paid to the owner or inefficient distribution including rent to labour). As “water bills” become sources of general revenue, they lose their value as price signals.

Piling on is another risk. That’s when your supplier claims to charge you for the service but adds on other services that are unrelated. When the City rebuilt the playing fields at Pouffe Park a few years ago, they seeded the fields and kept soccer teams off them for one or two years for the grass to establish. Sod was prohibitively expensive, the City claimed. Then the Preston reconstruction came along, and the fields had to be lowered 3′ to serve as emergency storm water storage areas. They were excavated, and then sodded (an operation detailed in earlier posts to this blog). Why was sod affordable second time around? Because, I hear, it was paid for by your water bills and not the City’s general revenue. Scrutinized expenditure is more frugal than unscrutinized expenditure.

And what of the curbs, bulbouts, fancy paving and plantings of streetscaping efforts along Preston, West Wellington, Bayview, Albert, and Richmond roads? Are they just “restoring” the surface as part of a sewer and water project? Obviously they are significant upgrades. Is the City is fobbing off urban expenditures from the general taxpayer city budget to the water users?

Here are some illustrations of the restoration occuring after water works are done:

Prior to recent water works, this part of Breezehill North was narrow, had no curb, no sidewalk
Slidell Street where it meets the Ottawa River Commuter Expresway. Prior to water main replacement, it had no curbs or landscaping.

Bayview north of Scott used to have a partial sidewalk on the west side, now the street is rebuilt to a higher standard.
I like the new landscaping and streetscaping being done on these projects. I like the traffic calming, the bulb outs, the new streetlights, the tree planting, the snuck-in bits of bike path. But how many things are being snuck in that are harder to notice, like wider turning radii at corners to handle larger trucks on inner-city streets? Or intersection “improvements” that facilitate car travel at rush hours? What sort of stuff is being slipped into water projects in other neighborhoods, good or bad? I’d rather see the water bills pay for water infrastructure rebuilding and restoration to the existing standards, and “upgrades” charged to the appropriate  City budget.