Kimberley City Council and City Staff are looking at ways to review the Bylaws surrounding utility rates for secondary suites.
At a regular council meeting on Monday, Oct. 23 Council discussed the issue, referring to an email sent to the City from resident Chris Ferguson.
Ferguson wrote, “as I understand it, the City of Kimberley is in desperate need for more rental housing accommodation. I am close to committing to creating a secondary basement suite in my house and am assessing all relevant costs, codes, etc.”
Ferguson says that since his suite will be approximately 500 square feet, suitable for one or two people, he believes it’s unfair and “anti-rental-supply-stock” to charge full utility fees for said space.
“Many other jurisdictions use reduced rates for secondary suites and I’d like you to strongly consider making this move for Kimberley,” wrote Ferguson.
Ferguson also said he’d be “all for” metered water and fees per garbage bag or can as well.
“With our solar energy field, we are trying to bill ourselves as a ‘green’ town,” Ferguson said. “The measures I am in favour of would all help to make the city greener and the utility fees more fair.”
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Councillor Darryl Oakley says he’s been asked about this a few times, separate from Ferguson’s email, and that there seems to be a comparison to other areas. He asked what the rationale is behind charging full utility fees for separate suites.
Chief Administrative Officer, Scott Sommerville replied, “That’s a great question. The rationale right now is based on per fixture, and there’s a cost per fixture based on water consumption rates. It’s been in the works for about two years to review.”
Jim Hendricks, Chief Financial Officer for the City, says he is currently working on amending the Bylaws surrounding these utility rates.
“We received a draft report from Urban Systems in November of 2016 actually,” said Hendricks. “I sent an email asking if that was ever finalized. I will have some information on water and sewer utilities coming back to Council as part of the next meeting on Nov. 6. I’m going to be proposing some changes to the Bylaws. We have to have this adopted by the end of the year in order for it to become effective on January, 1 . I’m going to be bringing that report forward, whether it’s a draft or final, just to let Council see what’s in there.”
Councillor Kent Goodwin suggested that perhaps Council should be looking at other drawbacks to having secondary units as well.
“I’m told that there is an issue in Kimberley with affordable rental housing and the lack there of,” Goodwin said. “It may be that in addition to utility rates we should be looking at any other impediments that might be our responsibility – that might stand in the way of people converting their basements or opening up their houses. There’s got to be a lot of houses in this town that used to have a lot of people in them that just have a couple now, and they could get some revenue. I don’t know if there’s a role for us there or not.”
Manager of Planning Services, Troy Pollock agreed.
“That’s a great point,” said Pollock. “Way back in 2010 we amended our zoning bylaw to open up the opportunities for secondary units, suites, accessory dwellings, carriage house dwellings; almost any type of secondary dwelling unit that you can imagine, we made provision for in the R2 zone, which is pretty much 75 per cent of the existing residential neighbourhoods in town. Unfortunately the uptake on that hasn’t been as great as we’ve liked. There’s been a fair number, maybe not quite a couple dozen, but we’re getting there. It definitely should be more. One of the things that people point out is the cost of that. It’s not inexpensive to develop a secondary suite, whatever type it is. There’s certain building code, life safety issues, that must be in place for the safety of both occupants or both sides of that dwelling. The utility rates are one of those ones that I think would be a good incentive to help encourage some more [secondary dwellings].”