If you opened up your utility bill this week and suffered sticker shock, you're not alone.
Utility taxes, paid twice each year by Prince George residents for water usage, sewer service and garbage disposal are up 21 per cent over last year's rate and have climbed 58 per cent over the past three years.
Owners of single family dwellings are now required to pay a six-month combined utility bill that ranges from $417.28 (for a small garbage container) to $439.28 (medium container) to $459.28 (large container). The discounted rate for six months last year for a medium-sized container was $348.23. That means, in 2013, it will cost residents an additional $91 for each of their two utility payments.
In 2011, the total six-month utility rate was $370.32, reduced to $339.29 if paid on or before the due date. In 2010, the bill was $329.54, discounted to $296.58. Those early-payment discounts no longer apply.
Unlike previous years, there is no incentive for early payment of the bill, which is upsetting residents who had grown accustomed to the discount.
"That's where the confusion is, it was confusing even for us," said Lori Tidsbury, a communications assistant for the City of Prince George.
The new rates took effect on Jan. 1. This year, the discount is no longer available and a 10 per cent late penalty applies. Failure to pay the bill by the Friday, April 5 deadline will result in an additional 10 per cent charge, which would bump the rates to $459.01, $483.21 and $505.21 depending on the size of the garbage bin.
Broken down, this year's six-month charge for a single family or duplex owner for water is now $188.76, the sewer tax is $158.52 and the garbage container disposal fee is $70 (small container), $92 (medium) or $112 (large). Last year, the single family/duplex rate for six months of water was $162.72, the sewer rate was $133.20, and garbage containers cost $69 (small) $90 (medium) and $110 (large).
For strata residents, the new six-month combined utility rates are $329.02 (small container), $351.02 (medium) and $371.02 (large).
City staff are feeling the wrath of taxpayers and service centre personnel at City Hall have been busy answering phone calls to explain the utility bills, which are mailed out twice per year, usually sent two months before the bill is due. In September, city residents will be required to pay the same amounts for the July-December utility billing period. That bill will be due Sept. 27.
"People are concerned about the money they're going to have to pay," said Janet Bigelow, the city's lead service centre representative. "But we need running water, we need sewers and we need to make sure they're working good underneath the ground and above the ground. We know we have aging infrastructure and we have to fix it and maintain it. Everybody's getting hit with that same bill, including the people answering the phones. Nobody likes it."
The city anticipates it will need $2.37 million for its sewer utility and $4.99 million for the water system annually to pay for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and city council approved the rate increases to address those needs. The city pays the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George for tipping fees at the Foothills landfill, which have increased 27 per cent over the last five years.