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Elderly couple says they were threatened with $100,000 fine and police if they didn’t hook up to city water services

KAWARTHA LAKES- Garnet Watts will turn 80 years old in the fall. His wife Joanne Hurren is 78. The couple moved to County Road 121, just outside of Fenelon Falls 15 years ago after selling the family farm. They both say they feel the city threatened them with a $100,000 fine or police involvement if they didnt comply with the Mandatory Connection By-law. “When they first sent the big envelope in the mail to us it said we would be in jail, we could be forced to pay a fine or be taken out by law enforcement.” Joanne told Kawartha 411.

The city says the couple was not threatened with jail time. City Solicitor Robyn Carlson tells Kawartha 411 “Perhaps the only remaining piece of information that may be required is that, if the owner fails to connect the City can enter and do the connection.  Costs are then added to the tax roll and collected in the manner that taxes are collected. “I am not certain why the owner references jail; that is incorrect”

However the Mandatory Connection ByLaw, which was included in the package sent to Garnet and Joanne states “Any person who contravenes any provision of this by-law is guilty of an offence, and upon conviction, is liable to a maximum fine of not more than $100,000.00, as provided for by section 429 of the Municipal Act, 2001, as amended. This bylaw may be enforced by Municipal Law Enforcement Officers and police officers.” The bylaw requires all properties that are adjacent to water or wastewater services in the city to connect to the system.

The couple are on a well and say they have not had any problems with their water. Garnet says “Why would we fill in a perfectly good well so the City of Kawartha Lakes can put us on water with what I would call a chemical cocktail in it?”

It’s not only the quality of the water that concerns Joanne, its the cost. “Our hydro is so high we do well to get that paid, we don’t have big money, we have what we thought would supply us.” Joanne says. It will cost Joanne and Garnett about $700 a year. She says they had no idea they could be forced into this when they purchased the home.

The bylaw effects a number of homes along the same stretch of County Road 121. Councillor Doug Elmslie says it would cost approximately $10-$15,000 for the homeowners to hook-up to the town water and then there would be the water bills on top of that. He and some of the residents effected spearheaded a plan to have to mandatory-hook up deferred but the residents would still have to pay for water. Water they are not getting. “It’s pure dictatorship” Garnet declares. “They are like bullies and they have no respect for anyone”

Elmslie told Kawartha 411 there were four meetings with residents and the majority agreed to pay the going rate for water they would not be using if they didn’t have to hook-up right away. “I can’t say whether these people were at the meetings but I believe minutes were circulated to everyone involved”

The Director of Public Works for the City says mandatory Connection By-Laws have been in place across the province for years.  “Successful implementation is key to sustainability within the user rates.” Bryan Robinson told Kawartha 411. “Implementation of the By-Law in CKL is as a result of a Lean Six Sigma – Black Belt process improvement study. The previous by-law was clear on the expectation but was lacking in the ability for staff to implement and enforce.  The 2014 revision provides ability for both.  The process involves staff within many different Departments/Divisions including Public Works, Engineering and Corporate Assets, Building, Revenue/Taxation and Municipal Law Enforcement.”

Robinson goes on to say “Fenelon Falls was chosen as a pilot area for implementation and Staff are continuing to work with those affected residents.  The process provides for an 18 month window from the time of notification to complete the connection.  This is ample time to comply.  Where extenuating circumstances exist, many have chosen to apply to Council for exemption from certain sections of the By-Law.  Others are still within the window of opportunity to comply with the By-Law.  There are also flexible payment options provided to residents.”

Joanne says they aren’t going to pay. “I’m just going to leave this but I know they will try to charge me interest”

“I guess if they don’t wish to pay their bill,then they can see a lawyer and find what options are available to them. I felt that I acted on the request of the community once they understood what their options were.” says Elmslie. He says three wells in the area were contaminated years ago and the the province said the city had to comply with the clean water legislation.

The City says there are a number of reasons why residents are forced to buy in to the system. The rationale was outlined in a recent staff report stating:

“While Staff recognizes there is a capital cost to the property owners for connecting to the municipal water system, the benefits to connecting are listed as follows:

  1. The City is committed to providing safe and reliable drinking water to municipal users. The City is held to a high standard through strict regulations enforced by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change”
  2. Municipal serviced properties through source protection legislation are less susceptible to risk from contamination, drought and well interference from nearby development.
  3. Private wells can have high maintenance costs particularly if they have to be re-drilled.
  4. Properties with municipal servicing are generally perceived to be of higher value in comparison to privately serviced properties since there are governing bodies (i.e. municipality and MOECC) ensuring safe and reliable servicing.
  5. The Fenelon Falls municipal water system provides fire protection through the provision of hydrants and adequate pressurized flows. As there is a water main on County Road 121 the property owners are already receiving this benefit at no cost.
  6. Property owners will be contributing fairly and in a balanced manner for the ongoing maintenance, operation and capital upgrades to the municipal water treatment plant and associated infrastructure that services Fenelon Falls.

The 16 homes effected run from Clifton Road to Northline Road and will eventually have to hook up to the system. For now they just get the bills. Joanne and Garnet just received their first, quarterly water bill. It’s $171. 77. Money they say they don’t have, for water they aren’t using.

“I want to be able to use my well water, I grew up on well/spring water. I want to be able to stay in my own home, but I can’t anymore.” Joanne says.

But the city is digging in their heels too. Robinson says “Staff are committed by Council and the By-Law to ensure residents are compliant.  As a result, Staff will be continuing to refine the process and working to ensure all qualifying residents in the City are compliant with the Mandatory Connection By-Law.”

 

 

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Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I read this article yesterday and became instantly angry. My immediate thought was extortion. As I read further about the comments of jail time and fines if residents did not comply, I felt that theses residents are being threatened and harassed. Shame on the City of Kawartha Lakes. Rural properties have wells which the owners had to pay for. Since when is the City concerned about the owners property value other then taxing them. Well water is natural and less chemically treated. The residents should be able to choose if they want Municipal service. This is a huge money grab. The hook up of thousands of dollars they are looking for is to fund the extension of water service to these residents and then slapping them monthly bill. Some people do not have 10-15 thousand dollars laying around the house. Many residents are on fixed incomes. They should launch a class action law suit and fight this ridiculous Bylaw. Again, who can afford a lawyer? What I find so ridiculous is that the CKL is trying to make it seem that they are doing them a favor for the good of the resident’s health by preventing contamination and improving property value. What a joke!

  2. One could look at the fact of point increase your value of property..great so your property is worth more by hooking up. Now along come MPAC they see you have made an upgrade so now your land/property taxes go up for the year , so along with the cost of hookup the cost of supply you have cost of perceived value of land. So at the rate of 177 per quarter and 700 year to tax for hookup then est of 30,000 more perceived value increase. On an fixed income this is an tough pill to swallow. Ask many of the land owners between lindsay and oakwood what it was like. Omemee was put into same boat. The town of lindsay wanted to put the line in from lindsay to omemee and shut down wells there..it didn’t happen. There is so much to be said about treated river water..can not even start on that here.

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