While other city revenues plummeted last year, the earnings of Winnipeg’s water and waste department soared by $15 million.
Preliminary year-end figures show the department took in $397.1 million in revenues in 2020, up from $382.3 million in 2019.
There were increases in four key revenue streams, including water ($136.5 million from $132.4 million), sewer ($203.9 million from $201 million), solid waste ($51.8 million from $44.5 million) and land drainage ($4.9 million from $4.4 million).
“We increased the (water and sewer) rates and… we’re (seeing) more home use,” said Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the water and waste committee. “It’s like the increase in home garbage. Way more people are working from home or just staying home or studying from home (due to the pandemic.) I would certainly think it would continue (so far) in 2021.”
As the Free Press has reported, Winnipeggers threw out 12 per cent more residential garbage in 2020 than in 2019, a change that was also blamed on folks staying home more often.
While the water and waste department revenue surge may appear to offer welcome relief to the city’s overall pandemic-strained budget, Mayes noted the city is faced with billions of dollars in required sewage upgrades.
That includes an up to $2.3-billion master plan to reduce combined sewer overflows and a $1.8-billion upgrade to the north end sewage treatment plant, both of which are required under provincial law.
“We have these massive projects that we need to do… So $15 million is a lot of money, but on the other hand, if we’re going to meet the combined sewer (overflow reduction) target, we’ve got to get from (spending) $30 million a year on that work to $45 million a year, year after year after year,” said Mayes, noting the province wants the work completed by 2045.
That means the 2020 budget boost won’t stretch that far, the councillor said.
Revenues also rose due to a four-year water and sewer rate hike, which began with a three per cent increase in March 2020. Rates will jump another three per cent higher in 2021, followed by 2.8 per cent hikes in each of the following two years.
Better prices for recycled materials and greater amounts of residential garbage also helped, a written statement from city spokesman David Driedger said.
“The solid waste revenue increase was driven primarily by the sale of recyclables as a result of better-quality commodities and increased market prices, and an increase in residential waste landfilled as a result of COVID-19,” wrote Driedger.
Meanwhile, revenue from property taxes bucked the pandemic loss trend, rising to $636.3 million in 2020 from $614 million in 2019.
— Joyanne Pursaga