Water bill from city irks homeowner

It doesn’t pay to conserve water for one South Surrey resident.

Peggy Ruge, who bought a mobile home in a complex on Cranley Drive last July, is upset about a $798 water and sewer bill she received from the City of Surrey.

“I don’t understand why a person of my age, who lives alone in a mobile home” pays the same rate as family living in a “four-bedroom home with an in-law suite,” she says.

According to the city’s website, residents living in single-family dwellings, including Ruge’s mobile home, pay $473 a year for water, based on a flat-rate fee, plus $325 for sanitary sewer services.

Ruge is even more irked about the amount she pays because she’s a die-hard conservationist, habits she picked up living in Bermuda years ago. Running water is a luxury there, with most of it “caught” naturally after a rainfall.

“Those habits just came with me,” Ruge explains.

When she received the bill earlier this year, she called the city to complain. Ruge was told the only way to monitor her exact usage was to get a water meter installed.

But when she asked to get a meter installed, she was told it wasn’t possible because even though she owned the mobile home, a strata corporation owned the land.

Strata arrangements usually involve apartment and townhouse complexes, which only pay $214 for water and $177 for sewer services on an annual basis.

This means Ruge can’t get a separate meter because her complex is considered a strata, yet she is charged single-family dwelling rates for water and sewage usage.

To get away from the city’s flat-fee rates, the residents in Ruge’s complex would have to agree to have two collective water meters installed.

The downside is although the city would pay for the meters, the complex would have to pick up the excavation work needed to install the required parts.

And, in the end, Ruge still wouldn’t be paying for her own consumption; her bill would be based on the average consumption of all the residents in the complex.

Vincent Lalonde, manager of utilities and transportation for the City of Surrey, says many people see substantial savings when they switch from a flat-rate to a user-rate basis.

In fact, he says, the city’s “goal” is to convert as many people as possible from the flat-fee rate to a metered service. The city provides free meters and free installation to residential homeowners.

But, “there’s no voluntary free water-meter program for stratas,” Lalonde says.

He says Ruge would probably save money in the long run if the complex does have the meters installed, but admits this wouldn’t happen until the retrofit installation costs are paid off.

“There’s quite significant cost savings, we think, for stratas to put in water meters,” Lalonde says.

To add insult to injury, Ruge says 22 out of the 122 mobile homes in her complex have individual water meters because they were built over a city water main. The rest of the water lines in the complex belong to the strata.

Lalonde was unaware of this until a reporter brought it to his attention. He says this is an unusual situation: “It’s possible it’s the only one in the city.”

If Ruge’s complex votes to install the meters, the owners of the homes already connected to the city’s water main may be forced to pay a share of the associated costs as part of the strata fees.

Given the growing complexity of the situation, Lalonde says he asked his “water meter expert” to contact the president of the complex and offer to attend their next meeting to answer any questions.

As for Ruge, there’s no easy solution to her dilemma. Her water rates will not reflect her actual usage, no matter how much she conserves.

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