Town to Now Start Billing Stormwater Fee

In November 2021, a consultant reported to Council that not enough money was being spent on stormwater management.  The new asset management plan makes it clear how much should be spent so in future, we can be assured that drains, pumps and storage areas will be properly funded.  This led to a discussion as to how the money should be collected and council approved a new method: instead of the cost being included in taxes, there would be a fee in the same way that water supply and sewer management is funded.  The fee would depend on the type of property and the area it covers – this approximates to the actual cost for each property although there is one disconnect:  there is no allowance for large residential properties with significant areas of grass which would allow rainwater and snow melt to be absorbed. Note that since stormwater costs would no longer be collected through tax bills, you’d think taxes would be reduced. Well, my recollection is that Director Laurie Wills did remove stormwater fees from her budget so taxes for the Works department did not increase for 2023 – but unfortunately increases by other departments more than made up for this.

Stormwater grate
Stormwater grate

The new method of collecting this revenue was agreed in the 2023 budget sessions with the invoicing being done by Lakefront Utilities on the Town’s behalf.  They would add the stormwater amount as another item on the electricity/ water/ sewer bill.  Calculating the amount requires knowing the type of property plus the ground area it covered and the Town elected to get this information from MPAC.  This is the agency that calculates the property assessment (valuation) for tax purposes and the information that MPAC has includes the required information (but not the grass area).  It seems it has taken until now for MPAC to pass this information to the Town since it has only now been announced that invoicing will start in our next Lakefront invoice.

Notification came in the Town’s recent quarterly newsletter and it says that the 2023 amount will be spread equally over remaining 2023 invoices and the 2024 amount (decided by the asset management plan) will be evenly spread over 2024 invoices.

So how much will it be?

The Town’s web site has a page which explains the new plan and provides the formulas for 2023, 2024 and 2025.  To make your own calculation, you first need to know what property type you have – most readers of this post will be low, medium or high density residential.  The next thing you need to know is the area occupied.  Both of these are available from MPAC although it’s not entirely clear how MPAC terminology translates to the Town’s density type.  For example, the MPAC description for my Condo Townhouse is “CONDO STACKED TOWN HOUSE” – what density is that (medium or high)?  To access MPAC’s information on your property, you need to create an account then sign in using your tax roll number.  See link in Resources.  But my guess for my personal “stormwater fee (tax)” for 2023 is $17.66.  With 3 invoices yet to come in 2023, that’s $5.89 for stormwater on each of my next three bills. If you have a detached house on a 50′ x 110′ lot, the Town calculates your fee at $46.23 per year.

It’s intended that commercial properties with large paved parking lots, that collect a lot of rainwater, would pay relatively large amounts.  And it’s intended to be proportional to the cost for managing all that water.

If you want more information, the Town’s web page is well worth a visit (that’s the first link in Resources below).

Resources

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Colline
5 months ago

Please sign, please share this petition against the current storm water fees calculations!
https://chng.it/9FNJSzvNk5

Kevin
Reply to  Colline
5 months ago

Does anybody know how this fee will be treated by the Landlord and Tenant Board? In one of the petition comments a tenant mentions a new fee on his utility bill. Usually leases do not allow new fees without both the landlord and tenant approving. Storm water was paid with property taxes which are usually paid directly by the landlord. Does this mean a fee previously paid by landlords has been passed onto tenants? Property taxes were not decreased so landlords are not really saving. There is a rule allowing increases to rents, even by more than the guideline amounts, in some circumstances. An increase in property taxes is one of those reasons. One way or another it is tenants who will most likely have to pay. Either directly on utility bills or by an increase in rent.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kevin
Bryan
Reply to  Kevin
5 months ago

Kevin,

You have raised several valid points regarding the SWF application to tenants.

There are several factors to consider:

tenants are not owners, therefore have no “property size” on which to base the SWM fee.

There are no provisions in the SWM fee by-law that provides for billing tenants by splitting the SWM fee equally among the tenants. There is such a provision for condosSplitting the SWM fee equally is unfair to the tenants; some units are larger/smaller than others.

Some tenants pay for their own utilities (electricity, water & sewer) so they have a “utility” billing account. They are not owners however, therefore do not have a “property size” to use as the SWM fee basis. A SWM fee billed to a tenant on their utility bill should question the billing with particular focus on the by-law that provides for this and the “property size” determination.

Commercial tenants typically have leases and the agreement may provide for the billing of shared services such as garbage pickup and snow clearing. The SWM fee is unlikely to be a listed common area charge and therefore the owner/property manager may not be able to pass the SWM fee on to the commercial/industrial tenants.

I am not aware of a provision in the provincial “rent” rules that exempt the SWM fee from the provinces rent control caps. Recently, some (all??) residential building owners received notice from the Town that 2024 Cobourg rents were to be reduced due to a reduction in property taxes.

If a residential owner wants to increase a “controlled” rent more than the provinces rent increase cap, they have to apply to the rent review board (landlord-tenant board) and make their case.

I’m sure there are other factors that will become known as residents express their concerns and investigate the propriety of the SWM fee.

Questions should be directed to LUSI (billing and collection agency), Public Works director Wills, CFO Adam Giddings, as well as Councilors Bureau, Darling, Burchat and DM Beatty who were all Council members on the prior Council that approved the SWM fee.

SWM Fee by-law June 2022 BL 048-2022
https://www.cobourg.ca/en/resources/048-2022-Adopt-Stormwater-Services-Charge.pdf

Kevin
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

Bryan, several years ago tenants in a building I was dealing with were notified of a 1.52% rent reduction directly from the town. Annual rent increases by the landlord came into effect a month before the reduction. The building was also being sold which added to the confusion. I think this rent reduction is rare as property taxes generally go up. For some of the properties I currently deal with there is only one utility bill in the name of the tenants. It is possible LUSI doesn’t even know who owns the houses. For apartment buildings there is usually a ‘house’ account. One arrangement is tenants pay for electricity and the landlord pays water/sewage for the building. In this case, maybe the ‘house’ account will include the SWM fee.

Unrelated to SWM fee, but interesting to note, is the amount of the rent reduction. If the 1.52% rent reduction was a result of property taxes decreasing by 10% then about 15% of the rent paid is for property tax. A smaller decrease, say 5%, in property tax would result in a larger portion of rent, about 30% for a 5% tax reduction, goes to property taxes.

There is a little confusion with the SWM fee and rental properties.

Bryan
Reply to  Kevin
5 months ago

Kevin,

I agree that not all rental buildings got this 2024 rent reduction. Further, the amounts vary. In my case the reduction is 0.74%. of the 2024 monthly rent.

“Rent” also varies. Some include utilities and parking, Some include none of these. Regardless of what is included, there is no provision in the SWM fee by-law for the owner to allocate the fee to the tenants.

Similarly, for a rental unit that does pay utilities and therefore has a “LUSI” account, there is no provision in the SWM fee by-law to allocate the MPAC property size to the units. The tenants do not own the property, don’t have a “property tax” account with the Town and therefore don’t have an MPAC “property size” to use in calculating the SWM fee.

As I noted previously, there will likely be more SWM fee questions and push-back as more information becomes public.

Kevin
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

Yes, I think there will be more SWM questions. At the town hall on Tuesday for example. Utilities paid by a tenant are not rent and not regulated by LTB rent controls. Even though the SWM fee is collected with utility bills it is a new fee. Will the LTB consider it an increase to water rates or a separate fee? If it is an increase then the person(s) responsibly for the water bill, landlord or tenant, will likely pay the new fee. But if the LTB treats it as a new fee, not specified in the lease, then the landlord may have to pay it. Some tenants might not even notice the fee. What happens to vacant properties with utilities turned off? There is no utility bill. Will one be created just to collect the SWM fee?

Colline
5 months ago

Short notice but here is a link for live video to Town Council tonight at 6pm. Lakefront is presenting regarding the Storm Water
https://pub-cobourg.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=4560f725-5be2-41e2-818b-a6dfb187262f&Agenda=Agenda&lang=English&Item=18

John Draper
Reply to  Colline
5 months ago

Actually, they are presenting about the water and sewer rates which they are responsible for. They are not responsible for stormwater rates and are unlikely to be presenting about them. All they do for stormwater is bill, collect the money and pass the money to the Town.

Bryan
Reply to  Colline
5 months ago

Colline,

Thanks for the heads-up.

Please note however that the presentation is about the Town’s 2024 WATER rates, Not Storm-water.

LUSI has no input, control or involvement with the Storm-Water Management fee. or the storm-water system. LUSI is just the billing and collection agency.

Colline
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

Yes, it was about the water rates. My apologies for misunderstanding the intent of the presentation.

Steven
5 months ago

I own some farm land in the far northeast, rural section of Cobourg, renting it out for a few thousand dollars each year to someone who can actually make some use of it. Even though the land drains entirely into a creek that eventually empties into the lake at Brook Road (and presumably is not treated at all), I am now faced with this SWM charge to the impressive sum of $15,000 per year. I’m not sure where I’m supposed to find this money. I did contact Brian Darling on the council to ask why, in the calculation of SWM fees for property owners inside the municipal limits of Cobourg, there was not a category for “properties currently unserviced by stormwater infrastructure.” He referred me to Laurie Wills, who has not replied to multiple messages. I suppose I will try Lucas Cleveland next. If anyone wants to join me in challenging this tax grab, please reach out.

small town Ontario
Reply to  Steven
5 months ago

https://www.cobourg.ca/en/home-and-property/stormwater-management.aspx

I found this on the Town of Cobourg website- Stormwater management – see a link to frequently asked questions
“Even if the drainage from your property does not directly contribute to the Town’s Stormwater system, the charge is intended to fund stormwater assets that service the Town as a whole, not each individual property.” “There are no exemptions to the stormwater charge”
$15,000.00 per year, that is absurd, 2023 rate per hectare charge Agricultural/vacant land $402.10 and increasing each year.
You can request a property confirmation calculation, see the link.
I was surprised to learn that the town has not been setting money aside over the years for stormwater assets. If memory serves me, the provincial government recently mandated this.??
Having said that, this is farm land, I assume to grow food for the local community.
Suggestion: Present your case to the Minister of Agriculture, Province of Ontario.
I am so sick of the government tax grabs on our farmers. Bill C248 is before the Senate now and it requests an exemption of the carbon tax on propane and natural gas. The tax is putting at risk the family farms that feed us, and the Liberal senators are fighting it with amendments to delay and kill the bill. Sorry for the rank. Also give the Federal Minister of Agriculture an e-mail.

small town Ontario
Reply to  small town Ontario
5 months ago

Sorry Bill C234, also the province did not mandate how to collect the money that decision was made by Mayor Henderson and Council at that time. Did they consider the effect the fee would have on agriculture? Was the vote recorded?

Bryan
Reply to  small town Ontario
5 months ago

small town Ontario,

Good Comment.
Some minor quibbles:
“There are no exemptions to the storm water charge” Cobourg’s SWM fee bylaw has an exemption for school board properties.

MPAC is the Ontario gov’t agency that created the property SWM rating system and did not make provisions for “no SW run-off”

The SWM cost is not new. Previously it was part of the Town’s annual ops and capital budgets (tax levy). The use fee part, based on lot size and classification is new. The “cost” was also not as large ($1.6M+ in 2023).

As was pointed out by several commenters at budget approval time, the combined tax levy-SWM fee increase is over 12%

small town Ontario
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

Thanks Bryan: Question – if the SWM cost is part of the ops and capital budgets why did the provincial government mandate municipalities set aside additional dollars for SWM, unless there is anticipated future large expenditures.
Yes, school board properties are exempted but that was not included in Q & A, and with no provisions for SW run off, both make a good case for Steven to challenge.

Bryan
Reply to  small town Ontario
5 months ago

small town Ontario

I believe that the gov’t mandate that you referred to is the asset management system which requires municipalities to be able to catalogue and track their assets, lifespan, cost, expected replacement cost and other relevant data. Major repair/replacement planning and funding is also required.

This is not new stuff in terms of best practices. Private sector business and condo corps have been doing this for decades. Municipal government has been slow on the uptake and the province had to “mandate” it to break the municipal reluctance (failure).

Part of the strategy in making the SWM fee a user fee was to take it out of the tax levy and change the charging base from property value to size and “absorption class” Walmart and most commercial properties would pay top dollar since their properties are close to 100% hard surface.

Cobourg’s 2023 tax levy was 6% (+/-) instead of the 12%+ it would have been if the SWM fee had been included.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

By my analysis (presented as a delegation to Council when SWM was being considered) and not contradicted, the large parking lots such as Walmart actually pay a smaller amount under the pay-by-area scheme than the did when charged based on property values. This new scheme has shifted the burden to residential property owners.

Bryan
Reply to  Steven
5 months ago

Steven,

$15K per year equates to a property size of about 92 acres. There should be a better charge base for large ag properties like yours.

Complain to MPP Piccini, Premier Ford and the Minister of Agriculture

“Laurie Wills, who has not replied to multiple messages” Use the Town’s formal complaint system. Non response to a resident is not acceptable.

Also complain to CAO Vaughan and Mayor Cleveland

Colline
Reply to  Steven
5 months ago

Hi Steven,
I am seeking out my options to do battle. Please contact me at [email protected]
I have am happy to hear from other people in a similar situation, and am encouraging all Cobourg residents to ask Mayor Cleaveland questions about the Storm Water fee on Dec 5 at the CCC.

Colline
6 months ago

Hi John,
I have been slow to pay attention to the storm water fees. I had a rude awakening when I found an additional 318$ fee on my recent utilities bill. That will amount to just under $1300 dollars extra a year for my rural property in Cobourg. Much is grass, but much is also flood plain and wooded area. Midtown Creek runs through my property. Storm water is processed through my property, rather than contributing to the Town’s system. Of additional concern is that my neighbour has signifantly more property than me. I have estimated that she will be charged $12000 in storm water fees!!

While the snippy woman at Victoria Hall told me this new fee has been well publicized by the Town of Cobourg, I have not received an actual detailed bill, specific to me. Nor have I authorized Lakefront utilities to include this fee with my actual measured use of electricity.

To add insult to injury, my property taxes have certainly not decreased despite having a well, septic and propane. I am not really getting my bang for my buck in services from Cobourg to begin with. Now this!

Any ideas on next steps to protest this astonishing and arbitrary new tax from the Town of Cobourg?

Kevin
Reply to  Colline
6 months ago

Colline, I don’t like this fee either. I do understand the importance of maintenance and the supposed intent of the fee. Much of the storm water system is underground, out of sight, and is not thought about by the average person. It is the responsibility of the municipality to maintain it. However, I would much prefer the municipality to stay focused on only what it is responsible for and provide those services in the most economically way possible.

The fee for all of 2023 is being billed on only a few utility bills at the end of the year. $318 is not the monthly fee. If you are billed $318 on the last 2 bills in 2023 then your fee is about $53 per month for 2023. If $318 is billed on each of your last 3 bills in 2023 the annual charge is $954, $79.50 per month. From your description you have low density residential, assuming the property is where you live. The annual rate per hectare is $904.72. A hectare is 100m by 100m. This is very large compared to most residential lots. Check the actual size of your property and ask Lakefront utilities how many times you will be billed $318 in 2023. Then you can verify if there is an error. If there is no error I do not know how you can fight it.

Colline
Reply to  Kevin
6 months ago

I appreciate some some clarification in where to start looking for some answers. Thank you!

Danjean
7 months ago

Does this apply to homes with no storm sewers only ditches along the road!

Bryan
Reply to  Danjean
7 months ago

Danjean,
The SWM fee applies to ALL properties in Cobourg. Ditches only, no ditches, stormwater sewers….doesn’t matter.

Cobourg taxpayer
7 months ago

Taxpayers should demand full accountability in the collection and distribution of SWM fees. LUSI and Holdco are not known for their transparency. Will the money be used for more employees, more vehicles, pay raises and/or compensation for the board of directors? Lucas Cleveland is the taxpayer representative on the board and taxpayers should demand accountability for the spending of this (tax grab) money. How will the taxpayer find out if the money is actually spent on infrastructure?

Bryan
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
7 months ago

CT,
The SWM fee is billed by LUSI as part of the joint utility bill (LUI, Waterworks, Sewer, SWM). LUSI receives the money and transfers it to LUI and the Town. The SWM fee is a business unit within the Works department (same as Environmental/sewer), and its budget is included in the Town’s annual budget review/approval.
LUSI doesn’t keep or administer the SWM fee.

Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
7 months ago

CT,
I agree with your point regarding accountability and the lack of transparency for Holdco, LUI and LUSI.
For example, currently LUSI “runs” Waterworks, which is a Town business unit. Waterworks does not appear in the Town’s org chart and there is no indication that there is any operational accountability or reporting.

I believe that Waterworks should be part of Public Works (same as Environmental (sewer) and that LUSI as the outsourced contractor should report to the Public Works Director.
Waterworks’ budget should be part or the annual tax levy budget just as Environmental (sewer), SWM, and other Town business units.

Leweez
Reply to  Bryan
7 months ago

Waterworks as a whole should be a part of Public Works, not just the waterworks budget.

Bryan
Reply to  Leweez
7 months ago

Leweez,
That would be an interesting re-org, bringing the Waterworks operations back into the “Town”. The Town owns all of the assets, just needs the staff to run it.

Leweez
Reply to  Bryan
7 months ago

It is only about 800 meters from the Lakefront garage to the Public Works garage.
From what I have been told the water dept employees would happily make that commute

mcpissed
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
6 months ago

Lucas Cleveland lives in a rented apartment on King St. folks! Has zero “skin in the game” as a tax paying citizen of Cobourg. His Ex who owns a local downtown business pays taxes though and one would wonder why he is not involved in her business anymore? wake up people.

Kathleen
7 months ago

“…There is no allowance for large residential properties with significant areas of grass which would allow rainwater and snow melt to be absorbed.”….

..There is also no allowance for people who use rain barrels. Zero incentives for those who are doing their part at conservation.

Town Staff took the path of least resistance to achieve this tax grab.

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
7 months ago

Kathleen,

“Town Staff took the path of least resistance to achieve this tax grab”

I agree. A brief review of storm-water fees in other municipalities indicates that consideration was given to property size, building size, hard surface coverage, drainage direction, soil type (clay, sand), vegetation and usage.

Fred
7 months ago

Our condo development already has a storm water management pond which I paid for when I bought my unit. We are self-contained and won’t contribute more storm water to the town. Will we be exempt?

Marie
Reply to  Fred
7 months ago

…. there are properties without storm or any other sewers and not even ditches. They also will pay this “user fee”….

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Marie
7 months ago

And some properties actually dispose of the town’s storm water! Our very sandy soil absorbs all rain that falls. Plus, with heavy rain some water from the street flows down our driveway and into the lake. There are no storm sewers in the neighbourhood. Shouldn’t we get a rebate instead of having to pay?

JimT
Reply to  Ken Strauss
7 months ago

Our property slopes away from the street so that most water flows into the back yard and sinks into the sandy soil. (It’s all sand down to 4 meters and beyond as shown in pictures of sewer construction back in the 90s).

We should really get a rebate for diverting water away from the municipal system.

Old Sailor
7 months ago

In all of my years above ground, this is the dumbest tax I have ever seen. The MPAC value assessment is already used for the purpose of calculating your individual realty taxes. If you have an extra large lot your MPAC assessment and your Cobourg tax bill will reflect that.

Now, with this new divide and conquer tax, some homeowners will pay additional tax for their “extra grass” – which absorbs water and snow. That additional grass has nothing to do with the stormwater management cost.

Does this lead to tax credits for residents who never use the CCC, Library or Victorioa Park? It is a reflection on the intellect of the previous Council that passed this tax proposal.

Bryan
Reply to  Old Sailor
7 months ago

Old Sailor,
The SWM fee (tax) gets even sillier for commercial rental properties such as strip malls where the units vary in size. The Town’s approach is to divide the SWM (tax) evenly based on the number of units and bill the tenants directly, ignoring the legal fact that the tenants do not own the property. Further, splitting the tax evenly ignores the fact that the units likely vary in size.

For example, on Strathy Rd., are Parts Source, Showtime and B&D Liquidations the same size? Perhaps Clr Burchat will keep us advised.

A better way would be to bill the property owner for the tax and let “him” allocate and recover the “SW tax cost” as part of the common area charges billed to each unit accordingly.

It will be interesting to see how the Town bills all of the Northam tenants. The size of the Northam units varies widely and yet the Town will tax all of these rental units the same amount.

Other questions:
The schools have an exemption. Why?
Will the Hospital, LCBO, Brookside, Golden Plough, County owned housing, OPP, Court House, County offices, etc get taxed on their property?
Some of these properties (LCBO, OPP, Brookside etc) pay a pittance for property tax (payment in lieu)
Will it be the same for the SWM tax?

Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
7 months ago

Another thought.
As the SW charge is a user fee and not a “tax”, is it subject to sale tax as other Town user fees are? An additional 13% would rubbing salt on the wound.

Kevin
Reply to  Bryan
7 months ago

We will soon know if HST will be added to the storm water fee. HST is added to existing water related charges (water service, water usage, sewage service …). Salt is added to storm water (a result of melting ice), apt metaphor Bryan. Wouldn’t it be great if the town could find ways to reduce the cost of services so taxes/fees could come down? Reduce street sweeping, find out what is causing so many police officers to be on stress leave, reduce the amount of water added to the hanging plants (once the earth in the basket is saturated the rest of the water just runs into the storm drains) and so on. My last bill date is Sept. 28 with no storm water charge.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Kevin
7 months ago

Stress leave ?? Its those 2nd jobs or work from home everyone has become accustom to