Parrsboro residents surprised by huge increase in sewage fee

Some Parrsboro, N.S., residents are frustrated and worried after they opened their property tax bills last week to find a $957 sewage charge.

The Municipality of the County of Cumberland charged the fee to help pay for a new sewage collection system and treatment plant in the former town of about 1,200 people.

But Don Lake, a building manager who looks after multiple properties in the area, said the fee was a surprise for many, who weren’t notified of the increase.

“Not a single word. Not a single word was given out,” he said.

Lake said Parrsboro’s population includes a high number of senior citizens, and many cannot afford to pay the fee, which is about $650 more than the normal amount.

Before the new sewage collection and treatment system was built, sewage flowed into the harbour and nearby waterways. (Google Streetview)

The $957 annual fee is charged per unit in multi-unit buildings, so some landlords have been hit with thousands of extra dollars on their bills.

“I can’t pass that $957 on to the tenants,” Lake said. “This is not funds that I can expect tenants to pay.”

Mary Parker operates a nine-unit apartment building with a retail space. Her tax bill included nine charges of $957, plus a higher fee for the commercial space.

She said she will likely have to pass some of that expense on to her tenants.

“It’s certainly going to impact what I’m going to have to charge for rent,” she said. “I’m going to have to absorb a certain percentage of it for sure but … I don’t have any choice.”

Who has to pay the fee

Parker said she has invested in the building over the past few years, including installing a new roof and a new facade.

“I just don’t see how I can continue to do that sort of thing and meet the requirements of such an increase in taxes,” she said.

Residents whose properties front on the sewage collection system will see the annual $957 charge on their bills whether they use the system or not.

Lake said he installed a $12,000 septic system at his three-unit building a few years ago, and he won’t be hooking the building up to the sewer line. Regardless, his tax bill includes three charges of $957.

‘This is a good thing’

Municipal Coun. Norman Rafuse said residents should try to look on the bright side.

“All the people are looking at is the fact that this is an added cost,” Rafuse said. “But, I mean, this is a good thing. There’s been sewage going in the harbour here for years and now there isn’t.”

The municipality installed the new sewage system because federal regulations require wastewater that enters waterways to be treated properly by 2020.

Project cost $12.7M, about $4M more than expected

Rafuse said residents were asked to pay the fee because the completed project, which was funded by all three levels of government, came in about $4 million over the $9-million budget.

“If the project had have come in somewhere around the original price, they would have got an increase, definitely, but it would not have been as high,” he said.

Residents were informed of the increase in a post on the municipality’s website, Rafuse said.

He said municipal staff are exploring options to help lower-income residents pay the fee.