City to debate who pays for water/sewer upgrades

Alisha Morrissey
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Whether you're paying a contractor up front or you see a hike in taxes down the road, St. John's residents will still be the ones to pay for the replacement of old laterals.

Regardless, the topic will be a hot one at City Hall Tuesday evening, as councillors lay out their arguments for who should be paying for the replacement of those pipes.

An environmental services crew from the City of St. John's works on a sewer repair on Quidi Vidi Village Road Wednesday. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Whether you're paying a contractor up front or you see a hike in taxes down the road, St. John's residents will still be the ones to pay for the replacement of old laterals.

Regardless, the topic will be a hot one at City Hall Tuesday evening, as councillors lay out their arguments for who should be paying for the replacement of those pipes.

A suggestion by the public works committee to go back to the city's old policies around the replacement of laterals was first raised last Monday.

The issue, raised the ire of Coun. Gerry Colbert who had the rules changed just a year ago.

This week council will debate the issue and will come to a decision about whether people doing extensive renovations to their homes will need to pay upfront for the upgrade to the water and sewer service.

Colbert said the policy is inequitable.

"The City of St. John's has a social policy," Colbert says, explaining the city charges $500 plus HST for lateral repairs and maintenance of blockages and issues requiring excavation for homes occupied by the owner; rental properties are excluded.

The actual cost of an excavation, however, can run into the thousands of dollars depending on the depth, condition, and length of the pipes, Colbert argued.

Therefore, the city should subsidize the replacement of old laterals and charge the same amount for the replacement as it does for the repair, thaw or other work done regularly on these pipes, Colbert reasoned.

"We will dig up many more laterals for roots and blocked lines then we will a couple who are renovating their home and we're asking them to upgrade that service," he said.

"There's an inequity there as far as I'm concerned. That's my position on it."

But Paul Mackey, the city's director of public works, said the two things have nothing in common with one another.

"It's getting kind of confused because he was referring to the owner-occupied policy where the city will do a repair for $500, that has nothing to do with this because this is not a repair. It's a replacement," Mackey said.

"If they're already up to standard, if there was a fire or something in a newer house you wouldn't need to replace the laterals obviously. We would look at them and decide whether they need to be replaced."

Mackey likens the upgrade to water and sewer service to that of an upgrade of an electrical system.

Most homes older than 25 years probably aren't up to code, Mackey said, explaining over the years there were many different sizes and materials used for the pipes.

There are more appliances, fixtures and bathrooms in modern homes and the pipes had to improve to handle the amount of water and waste coming and going from the house.

Coun. Debbie Hanlon voted against Colbert's bid to change the policy last year and was one of the public works committee members to raise objection to putting it in the city bylaws.

"It's an individual cost and shouldn't be passed on to everybody," Hanlon said pointing to every other jurisdiction in Canada, where the cost is paid by the homeowner.

"In my opinion this should never have been changed in the beginning."

Further complicating matters, Colbert said, is whether more than 50 per cent of the value of the home is involved in the renovation is a judgment call.

Colbert made the same argument when he lobbied successfully to have the bylaw changed last year.

"The other part that's annoying me now, I'm doing a check with the clerks office today, who voted for it the first time around?" Colbert asked.

A quick check of city records shows current councillors Sandy Hickman and Tom Hann, and former councillors Art Puddister and Keith Coombs voted with Colbert on the issue.

"Council thought it was the right thing to do before they cast their vote. How can they change their mind after they cast their vote?" Colbert asked. "Nothing has changed ... no facts have changed."

When asked why they changed their minds, both Hickman and Hann said city staff made a compelling argument this time around. Hickman also admitted to voting with his heart when he sided with Colbert on the previous vote.

amorrissey@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: St. John's, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jack
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Since St. John's area residents are already paying record high taxes, especially water and property taxes, the city should be paying for the water/sewer upgrades, and not burden taxpayers anymore.

    Otherwise, the city will turn into another Halifax and councilors are becoming more obsessed with how to get more tax revenue as opposed to listening to the people they serve.

  • Philosopher
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    The coalition of geniuses: Hanlon, Hickman, Hann and toothless Paul Mackey.

  • William Daniels
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    This just in,
    Voters to debate on whether to vote for Hanlon, Hickman, and Hann in next election .

  • chuck
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Let those who are getting the extra income from city council along with their income from their big businesses pay their own way but everyone is not as fortunate as that so it is unfair for some councillors to be voting for this. Consider the poor senoir citizens and those homeowners taking in middle or low income who are just making ends meet when you decide your vote.

  • Newfie Gal
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I can understand charging the homeowner if this is something that they have requested be done and there is not another reason for the city to do it. I do not agree with the city charging for the repair or replacement of something that should be their responsibility. These pipes (if I am thinking right) are the ones going in on a persons property from the road, right? There is no difference in these, than in electrical, phone, or cable lines. The city is charging for the service of water, so these should be included.

  • Randy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    The City really needs to get it's Ducks in order.To make a long story short I had one only house rented for two years while waiting to move back in the City had to replace all pipes including about 20 ft. of what I consider City pipe under the street at a cost of 12000.00 dollars our City called it commerical and would not pay a cent towards it! Typical!

  • Jack
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    Since St. John's area residents are already paying record high taxes, especially water and property taxes, the city should be paying for the water/sewer upgrades, and not burden taxpayers anymore.

    Otherwise, the city will turn into another Halifax and councilors are becoming more obsessed with how to get more tax revenue as opposed to listening to the people they serve.

  • Philosopher
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    The coalition of geniuses: Hanlon, Hickman, Hann and toothless Paul Mackey.

  • William Daniels
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    This just in,
    Voters to debate on whether to vote for Hanlon, Hickman, and Hann in next election .

  • chuck
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Let those who are getting the extra income from city council along with their income from their big businesses pay their own way but everyone is not as fortunate as that so it is unfair for some councillors to be voting for this. Consider the poor senoir citizens and those homeowners taking in middle or low income who are just making ends meet when you decide your vote.

  • Newfie Gal
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I can understand charging the homeowner if this is something that they have requested be done and there is not another reason for the city to do it. I do not agree with the city charging for the repair or replacement of something that should be their responsibility. These pipes (if I am thinking right) are the ones going in on a persons property from the road, right? There is no difference in these, than in electrical, phone, or cable lines. The city is charging for the service of water, so these should be included.

  • Randy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    The City really needs to get it's Ducks in order.To make a long story short I had one only house rented for two years while waiting to move back in the City had to replace all pipes including about 20 ft. of what I consider City pipe under the street at a cost of 12000.00 dollars our City called it commerical and would not pay a cent towards it! Typical!