Pass council debates emergency water fees

·3 min read

“A penny for your thoughts” is a fairly simple way to invite someone to share their ideas with you.

As a result of Crowsnest Pass council members voicing their thoughts, residents could stand to save thousands of their own pennies.

During the March 23 regular council meeting, first reading of Bylaw 1064-2021 — which sets the municipality’s fees, rates and charges, and is reviewed annually — was passed after a lengthy discussion on water disconnects and reconnects.

The bylaw originally did not charge for an emergency water disconnect or reconnect during regular working hours, though $160 was imposed for emergency disconnecting and connecting outside regular hours.

Non-emergency disconnecting and reconnecting was set at $80 during business hours, with a $320 fee applying outside regular hours.

Discussion on the fees began with Coun. Dean Ward questioning why residents should be charged for an emergency they have no control over just because it occurs outside business hours.

“If a basement’s flooding at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon or 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night, they’re going to be out $160 to shut off the water,” said Coun. Ward.

Charging for the service at all was something Coun. Dave Filipuzzi felt was unnecessary. “That’s why our citizens pay taxes: to provide them with that service,” he said.

Previous councils had decided to apply the reconnect and disconnect fees, replied chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas, to account for snowbirds who do not pay utilities during the winter months.

The municipality performs about 30 winter disconnects and spring reconnects each year.

“They’re not paying for that service for four to six months of the year, so you should pay more for the disconnects. That was council’s previous reasoning on that one,” CAO Thomas said.

The $80 price tag for connection work during regular hours, added Coun. Doreen Glavin, was specifically set to cover around four months of water bills.

“We are recouping when we shut the water off,” she said.

Additionally, Coun. Glavin pointed out, charging more for work done outside regular hours helps with fair worker compensation.

“After hours, you have to pay overtime, so that kind of goes outside of the service. That’s how I look at it,” she said.

Coun. Lisa Sygutek disagreed.

“Our taxes are heavy in this community,” she said.

“We shouldn’t be charging them extra to disconnect or reconnect. I think it should be a cost of us doing business. It’s just a small thing we do for them, and I don’t understand why we have to nickel and dime people for everything.”

Charging for an emergency reconnect but not for an emergency disconnect, added Coun. Marlene Anctil, was also excessive.

“If we have to disconnect because of an emergency, we should have to reconnect because of the emergency. You’re paying for your water all year,” she said.

Council eventually voted in favour of removing service fees from all types of water disconnects and reconnects.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze