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Natural gas, hydro going up

London Free Press - March 25, 2004
by Randy Richmond


April Fool's, London. Come April 1, the joke -- a bad one -- will be on us.

That day, household gas prices increase, electricity prices jump, a bit higher than expected, and the province could start to deliver bad news about city property taxes.

To add insult to injury, the latest news about utility hikes arrived just as prices at gas pumps across the city jumped about 10 cents a litre this week to about 85 cents.

"I am not happy about it," Londoner Laura Mcdonald, a mother of two teens, said yesterday. "Really, I just feel really frustrated."

Politicians and corporate bosses seem to think there's a giant pool of consumer dollars they can tap whenever they want or need more cash, she said.

They never talk about cutting costs or becoming more efficient, she said.

"My husband just can't go into work and say, 'Hey, Laura wants a new kitchen, give me $10,000.' " McDonald is already planning to cut her gas and electricity use to avoid the spring sticker shock.

"They're not going to get any more from me," McDonald said.

But it won't be easy. Effective April 1, Union Gas customers in Southwestern Ontario will see the price of natural gas rise to about 26 cents a cubic metre from about 22 cents, the company announced yesterday.

"The bottom line is about $100 more annually," said Union gas spokesperson Elizabeth Havelock.

The cold winter drove up the price Union Gas has to pay for its supplies, Havelock said. "We don't make a profit on the increase," she said.

Havelock was quick to point out that gas prices decreased in January and the increase brings them back up to earlier levels. "No one is really interested when they go down," she said. "But I'm not trying to minimize it."

The gas hike will arrive the same day electricity rates go up.

As of April 1, householders across Ontario will see an end to the 4.3-cents-a-kilowatt-hour cap. Instead, they'll be be paying 4.7 cents for each kilowatt-hour for their first 750 kilowatt hours and 5.5 cents beyond that.

That will add another $72 a year for the average consumer, who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

London Hydro customers will pay even more, as the distributor tries to recover the costs of adapting to a new energy market, said spokesperson Nancy Hutton.

It won't be much, another $8.40 a year on a average bill, she said.

Homeowners also face increases in London's property taxes, as well as sewer and water rates.

City homeowners are facing an 8.1-per-cent property tax increase, as well as a three-per-cent water rate increase and 7.4-per-cent waste water increase.

A homeowner with a house assessed at $138,000 will pay another $175 in taxes a year. But that increase doesn't take into effect the province's education take, which makes up 20 per cent of the property tax bill.

There's a chance London taxes could drop, depending on how much the province wants for education, said city treasurer Mike St. Amant. He's not holding out much hope, though.

"That being said, one of the province's promises was to put more money into education and it would come back to you and me."

And when will the province tell St. Amant how much it wants from Londoners? In April, of course.

PRICE INCREASES

  • Union Gas: Price of gas to rise to about 26 cents a cubic metre from about 22 cents, effective April 1.

  • That works out to about $100 a year for the average household -- three to four occupants using 2,600 cubic metres of gas a year in a 1,700-square-foot house.

  • London Hydro: A price increase April 1 will hike the cost of electricity about $84 a year, based on a customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) a month.

    The price will rise from 4.3 cents a kWh to 4.7 cents on the first 750 kWh and 5.5 cents after that.

  • London property taxes: Increasing 8.1 per cent this year, or $146 on a house assessed at $138,000.

  • London water rate is increasing three per cent and the waste water rate is increasing 7.4 per cent, for a total of $29 a year on a house assessed at $138,000.

  • Provincial education tax: Unknown until April.


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