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Water and sewer connection fees to make deeper dent

Fees may rise as district reconsiders meaning of “actual costs” for utility connections
Screenshot from Houston staff report to council detailing two scenarios for sewer and water connection billing.

Houston district council appears poised to raise fees on sewer and water connections, as district staff seek clarity on what it means for road surfaces to be replaced “at cost.” The changes would apply to any connections made to local water and sanitary systems.

The bylaws that establish service fees in Houston for connecting sewer and water lines say that the district will charge users for the “replacement of pavement, in addition to installation charges,” and that this work will be performed “at actual cost.”

But “actual cost” isn’t actually defined.

According to those bylaws, there is a minimum charge of $450 for a standard sewer connection and a minimum of $750 for a standard water line.

But when it comes to the replacement of pavement, confusion reigns over the costs that should be included in the bill.

The heart of the matter is whether “actual costs” simply refers to replacing the road surface — or whether the costs should go deeper.

In the latter case, actual costs would include “the full cost to complete the dig, install the pipe, rebuild and compact the layers of the road subsurface and replace the road surface,” according to a staff report to council, which adds that traffic control could be an extra cost in some situations.

The report digs into those costs and breaks them into two scenarios.

In “Scenario A” — where costs to the user are kept to a minimum — road surface replacement would cost $750 per connection. That’s $1,500 for the road work, plus $450 for the standard sewage link and $750 for the standard water link, for a grand total of $2,700.

But in “Scenario B” — with other costs including equipment charges, labour, flagging (for traffic control) and aggregate (material for filling the road) — the net costs rise to $4,100 for the sewer and $3,800 for water. At the end of the day, the user pays $7,900.

Those scenarios are “for demonstration purposes,” the report states, and both connections are placed in a single trench in the hypothetical situation.

But the figures are based on past connections carried out by the city, according to staff. And costs could be $5,200 higher for users in the second scenario, the report states. The report describes the first option as a subsidy on water and sewer connections.

“Staff are recommending 100 percent cost recovery to the greatest extent possible,” the report says. At the district council meeting on April 3, councillors adopted the staff recommendation.

“An amending bylaw will be brought forward at a future council meeting to clarify how ‘at cost’ charges are levied and what is applicable, based on the principle of user pay,” said Gerald Pinchbeck, chief administrative officer for Houston.