A Hammonds Plains man who says Halifax Water created an account for him in error and without his permission is refusing to pay a controversial fee for which he's received a collection notice.
Glenn Swan lives on Windsor Drive in the subdivision of Haliburton Hills, located at the edge of the Halifax Water service boundary. He said he's one of many people who were suddenly sent a bill for stormwater management in 2014, despite having their own well and septic systems.
"I'd never received anything from Halifax Water, nor did I have an account from Halifax Water, which is why I thought it was a mistake at the time," said Swan.
A collection notice for $147.64 was sent to Swan in late January.
The stormwater fee, or so-called ditch tax, is billed to cover stormwater entering ditches and culverts maintained by Halifax Water. It has caused headaches for both consumers and the utility.
The notice says if the balance isn't paid, Swan could face service suspension, additional charges or lien placement. The debt could even go to collections.
Swan said he's refusing to go through the appeal process or pay the fee on principle.
"I was absolutely astounded at how kind of an aggressive stance it [the letter] was taking," he said. "I don't feel the need to appeal for something I didn't sign on for."
Halifax Water response
Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell said accounts like Swan's were created following a 2013 ruling by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to bill customers in the service boundary receiving stormwater service.
UARB ruled in favour of customers after initial backlash, stating they'd no longer need to hire lawyers and engineers to prove they were ineligible for the fee. Instead, Halifax Water would send a staffed engineer to the site upon request.
"We could certainly have done a better job of getting out ahead of that and letting folks know what was coming and we apologize for that," Campbell said.
"Now if some customers don't even bother to go through the process of appealing and decide to not pay their bill, then at some point Halifax Water and its other customers who are actually paying their bills have to take action and go through collections."
Derek Mailman also lives on Windsor Drive and received a bill in 2014 for the stormwater fee. He chose not to pay it or subsequent bills before appealing.
He said he has a ditch in front of his house and a brook on the side, so he was surprised he learned in December he was exempt from paying the fee.
There was something else that surprised Mailman.
"They [Halifax Water] didn't call me to say, 'Let's meet on this day at this time to talk about your ditch.' Did somebody come? Maybe. Did I see them? No," he said.
Hoping for 'clearer heads to prevail'
Campbell said dealing with stormwater is becoming more expensive because of unusual weather events, like heavy snow or rainfall. He said it will cost Halifax Water $25 million to manage stormwater in the next capital year.
Swan said he hopes the matter is resolved without a fight.
"My hope is clearer heads are going to prevail at the municipal government level or Halifax Water," he said.