More than $100,000 worth of unpaid water and sewage bills could result in the Town of St. George starting to turn off the taps for some customers as soon as this spring.
Town CAO Jason Gaudet said the town couldn't shut down off any delinquent accounts last year due to the province's emergency order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that changed in October.
"We'll be back shutting water off for delinquent accounts in the spring," he said.
With a total water and sewage budget of $800,000 for the town annually, Gaudet said that $100,000 in unpaid bills is "like one-eighth of our budget is being held in delinquency."
Without those payments coming in, Gaudet said the town's ability to maintain its aging water and sewage system is hampered. Some of that system dates back to the 1930s. It's also believed St. George has more sewage lift stations than other towns because the town is hilly. Those lifts all require maintenance.
Earlier this month, St. George had a boil water advisory because of a valve and water main break. In order to fix the problem, Gaudet said the town had to repair the water main break, pay for two tests to declare the water safe to drink again, and pay the wages for the workers involved in the project, which all in total cost about $7,000. This all come out of the water and sewage fund.
The funds collected are reserved for maintenance and repairs on the water and sewage system throughout the year, said Gaudet. That work can include clearing out sewage lines, rebuilding sewage lift stations, flushing testing and preparing for capital projects.
"If you don't have the money there, you have to wait until it's there or postpone the project, or work," he said. "It's tough to budget for."
He said he believes some St. George water customers were less inclined to pay their bills because of the past year's emergency order and they may have just forgotten during the frenetic year, but the town will be turning off service for delinquent customers this year. Typically, the town shuts the water off on the first of April or May, he said.
But before that happens, final notices are sent out followed by phone calls. Customers typically have three months from the date the bill was sent out to pay, he said. Bills are sent out twice annually, in January and June.
Past due notices were recently sent out, Gaudet said, noting notices are being sent out for those who haven't paid their bills as of June 2020.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.
Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal