Frustration sets in
A Prince Albert resident is still waiting to hear how much of a $6,500 water bill she’ll be paying.
A Prince Albert senior fighting a nearly $6,500 utility bill still doesn’t know how much she’s going to have to pay.
On Monday, city council voted 4-2 against a motion that would have seen Nellie Souter’s $6,495.78 water bill, issued on June 17, 2016, reduced to $300. Instead, the matter will be referred to the city manager for further discussion.
It was a frustrating meeting for Souter, who said she wouldn’t be able to pay what the city was asking, and continued to insist that it was impossible for her to use that much water.
“I’m just a senior. I live in the house by myself. There’s no way on God’s green earth that I created that water bill,” she said.
Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller and Ward 3 Coun. Lee Atkinson both spoke in favour of reducing Souter’s bill to $300.
The original motion tabled for Monday’s meeting would have called for Souter’s bill to be cut in half. That would have reduced the amount owed from $6,495.78 down to $3,046.84. However, Miller altered the motion to a total payment of $300 before voting.
Miller said she discussed the issue with Souter, who lives in Ward 1, and recommended the $300 figure based on what the occupant was able to pay. Miller also noted that there are
numerous organizations in the city, like Cooke Municipal Golf Course, who do not pay a water bill, so waiving the fee would not be unheard off.
Both Miller and Atkinson added that the city bears some responsibility for the problem because water bills are not sent out every month, which means problems are not caught as quickly as they should be.
“We could stop these things from actually happening if we had a monthly water bill, so the residents would realize, ok, we have an issue, so if we have an issue it’s only going to be $1,000,” Miller said during the meeting. “It’s not going to be $6,000 or $3,000.”
Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody, Ward 5 Coun. Tim Scharkowski, Ward 6 Coun. Martin Ring and Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski
all voted against the motion to lower the bill to $300. Ward 2 Coun. Rick Orr was not at Monday’s meeting.
Ring and Zurakowski said they sympathized with Souter’s plight, but were worried about what kind of precedent they would set by reducing the payment by such a large amount.
“At this point I’m not comfortable on making a decision on this tonight,” Ring said during the meeting. “Coun. Miller made some very valid points, and I do think we have to be careful with it, but I think we do have to be careful with it from a precedent standpoint as well.”
Zurakowski added that although the city should have caught the problem sooner, ultimately Souter bore some responsibility as well.
“Frankly, I think there’s some ownership on this issue on both sides,” he said.
The matter has been referred back to city administration, who will review it further. Souter said she’s getting tired of the whole thing, but will probably keep on fighting.
“I might yet,” she said. “I’ll see what happens.”
According to a report presented to council, the first unusually large water metre reading from Souter’s home occurred on Feb. 9, 2016. It showed she had used 27,315 cubic feet since the last bill. The report added that the clerk at the time was new, and subsequently did not flag the account. As a result, the account was not flagged for high usage until March 15.
The high consumption levels were confirmed by a reading taken one day later, but city clerks did not see the returned work order until April 11. A work order was issued that day to advise Souter that she had a leak.
Service personnel who arrived at Souter’s home that day to change her metre said there was about an inch of water on the basement floor. The serviceman also reported seeing a leak under a basement sink, and a water line that was completely disconnected. At that point a plumber was called in to fix the leak.
Nellie Souter sits inside City Hall after Friday’s meeting. Souter said she’s frustrated after a motion to reduce a water and sewer bill totally nearly $6,500 to $300 was voted down by council.