BLACK RIVER-MATHESON – A Northern Ontario woman is calling for change in the municipality’s water, sewer and garbage bylaws, citing detrimental effects on her rental property.

Pauline Francis shared her story at the June 25 Matheson council meeting, explaining that because her property is multi-residential she’s being charged for four sewer and water lines despite only having one of each. As a result, Francis said she was forced to shut down her business. The municipality said looking into the request is going to be a lengthy process.

“My husband Garth and I made an expensive decision in 2015 to completely renovate our building in order that we be in a position to offer accommodations, since accommodations are few and far between in this area,” Francis said.

“We invested in this community and made ourselves a part of this community. Fast forward to 2023, and we can honestly say investing in this town was the worst decision we have ever made, especially with a town that is not invested in us.”

When the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing declared the Matheson council seats vacant, provincial bureaucrat Kathy Horgan was appointed to make decisions until new members are sworn in. At the June 25 meeting, Horgan said they’ll talk about next steps at their next council meeting on July 23.

For 2023, the township’s annual water fees and charges for multi-residential properties (two or more units) were $645 per unit while sewage fees and charges were $586 per unit. 

In addition to looking into the three bylaws, Francis also asked the town to “come to a more reasonable fee schedule and billing done quarterly over 12 months as opposed to” the municipality’s current billing over six months. 

Last year the Landlord and Tenant Board allowed Francis to increase rent by 2.5 per cent for each unit.

“With the cost you are billing us for the water, sewer, and garbage, it is just not feasible to operate our business. Last year, as you know, you passed a water, sewer, and budget in the combined amount of 7.8 per cent. For me that is 7.8 per cent times four. Combined with the proposed tax levy increase, I had no choice but to shut down my business for financial reasons,” Francis said.

SEE: Black River-Matheson Township council approves 34% budget hike

Because there’s only one water line, Francis said the building’s water pressure is extremely low.

“The way this has been set up is that we have to share our water line and sewer line with other units which means I would have to prepare a schedule for whose turn it is to have a shower, do laundry, wash dishes, etc,” she said.

“This does not justify the amount the township are charging us. If the township wants to bill us for four services, I think we should physically have four services.”

Francis said her husband asked for water metres for 20 years. 

Matheson CAO Chris Wray said producing a report isn’t going to come quickly.

In most communities, residents pay a percentage of the water usage for sewer, which makes “an awful lot of sense,” Wray said.

Before that can happen, he said the municipality needs an understanding of how much water is being used.

“That does not mean that that is the amount of water that’s in this case being produced by our water systems, because between the systems and the user, you’re losing water, much like you do with electricity systems,” Wray said. 

“We have leakage. We have no idea what the leakage is. None. And so before you even do that, the very first thing you want to do is a leak study.”

Kirkland Lake is facing similar water woes. 

Earlier this year, a town report showed that the nearby municipality is losing about 50 per cent of its treated water due to unknown breaks. It’s estimated the cost to fix the water pressure and volume issues is $10-15 million.

SEE: Prepare to make ‘very difficult’, unpopular decisions, warns Kirkland Lake mayor
Water, sewer rate hike on tap in Kirkland Lake

Matheson director of infrastructure James Mousseau said the township has a leak detection study on their radar and agreed with Wray that the best way to do sewage is to show that as a component of water.

“The other point I would make is just we would have to look at costs too. If we’re looking at water meters, if we’re looking at putting new services in, there is work to be done right. There’s digging, there’s repaving in some cases and whatnot, that all has to be factored in as well,” he said.

“So it would all go into, you know, the first year rates or whatever to recoup those costs and then a regular rate or fee going forward based on the usage on what we produce is the plan.”

The meeting can be watched here.

By Marissa Lentz-McGrath, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Jun 27, 2024 at 05:55

This item reprinted with permission from   Timmins, Ontario

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