Unexpected Bills Have Residents Upset About Water Main Replacement
Large, unexpected and delayed bills for service connection replacements have seen more than a few residents affected by Phase One of the Cast Iron Water Main Replacement Program. They brought their questions to Executive Committee looking for answers.
“We are not talking about a small amount of money here, for some people they are pushing ten or eleven thousand dollars,” Sean Meacher told Executive Committee.
Service connections are the water and sewer lines running from your home to the main lines.
Sean Meacher spoke about his final bill, which came to $5,430, which was more than the $3600 quote he had signed with the City’s contractor for Phase One; KMS Construction Limited. Meacher also spoke about how the bill came unexpectedly, 15 months later, and he and wife Melissa had tried to get an explanation of the billing but were unable to do so.
The bill was to be paid by March 31st, in full or attached to the property as an improvement carrying a 4 percent annual interest rate.
“The presumption was of a bill for $3600; receive it and pay it,” Sean Meacher said, “this was not just about work inside the house but the entire service connection.”
A report from Administration broke the costs of Meacher's bill down. $3600 as per the KMS Construction Ltd quote plus an additional $250 per metre for sewer line replacement. Meacher had to pay 61 percent of the $250/metre cost because at the time the City had a cost-sharing program for no-corrode sewer lines. The program was eliminated in the 2017 budget.
Meacher said under the previous Cast Iron Water Main Local Improvement Program (LIP) his costs were $8,190 for the water main (30 percent of total cost) plus $3600 for trenchless replacement of his sewer line connection.
“It tells me we are paying for the pipe now,” Meacher said about his new billing.
“For a year and a half there is no explanation on how we are being billed,” he said.
The Cast Iron Water Main Local Area Improvement Program (LIP) was a highly controversial program to replace deteriorating water mains on a cost shared basis. Homeowners who benefitted from the cast iron water mains were to pay 30 per cent of replacement costs. The LIP saw the formation of the citizen lobby group Citizens Advocating Sustainable Taxation (CAST). CAST attempted to lobby Council to not proceed with the LIP but failed.
The work for Phase One was approved by bylaw on April 25, 2016, by City Council, as a non-petitionable Local Area Improvement Project after a hearing by the Saskatchewan Municipal Board which green lighted the LIP after a public hearing.
The work on Phase One proceeded as an LIP where residents were to pay 30 percent of the cost for replacing cast iron water mains. CAST would organize a successful drive to have the Cast Iron Water Main LIP defeated in a referendum held during the October 2016 civic election. The newly elected Council chose not to apply the LIP to Phase One.
Melissa Meacher stated “there is no transparency at this level and it needs to be addressed.”
Homeowner Brian Smith expressed his frustration with his final billing of $10,710.
“It was three times what we were expecting, it was supposed to be $3800, plus GST,” Smith said, adding “it's now called work in the home with no explanation what is covered.”
For Smith, he had to get the work done as part of Phase One of Cast Iron Water Main replacement, as his water service line was made of lead. There were problems and the contractor had to also replace what Smith called a "perfect sewer service connection".
Smith told Executive Committee he had done much of the work in the home himself. The contractor was only in his home for two hours.
As part of the LIP, all lead line service connections were to be replaced. Presently, the City has no policy compelling residents to replace their lead line water service connections.
Eric Holmes likewise signed what he thought was a $3800 contract with KMS Construction Limited, for 4 inch sewer line and ¾ inch water line service connection replacement. But he is now being billed $10,710 by the City.
“Can you show me a contract I signed for an extra $6,910? How can I get billed for that?” Holmes asked Executive Committee.
Under questioning from Councillor Brian Swanson, Holmes said the work took about 4 hours to complete. Holmes’ home does not have cement but a dirt basement, so no jackhammering was necessary.
Councillor Don Mitchell said there had been communication problems between the Phase One residents and the actual LIP. “The issue and problem is an absence of communication,” Mitchell said.
“It seems the costs were recalculated, it's a question of the status at the time. I think the frustration is to understand or sort out changes to what they signed on to,” he said, adding “there is still a gap in what was represented.”
Councillor Dawn Luhning said “we are seeing some serious issues with information not being disseminated to the residents…we have to be more accountable.”
Luhning spoke directly about the billings, which had earlier been described as “gross discrepancies (in billings) for a couple of the neighbours,” by Sean Meacher.
“There shouldn't be all the discrepancies in what you're seeing…we should be embarrassed by that,” she said.
Councillor Scott McMann made motions to have Administration look into all residents affected by Phase One and prepare a comprehensive report back to the Executive Committee. Also, affected residents would not have to pay any service connection replacement fees or interest until the matter was resolved plus a reasonable grace period allowing them to make payment arrangements.
The report is expected to take several weeks to complete. Residents will be informed and invited back to Executive Committee when the report is completed.
EDITOR’S DISCLOSURE – the author of this article Robert Thomas was a mayoralty candidate in the October 2016 election and campaigned extensively against the LIP. He is not a CAST member.