Original Published on Jul 10, 2022 at 20:50
By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
If Niverville residents are hoping to beat the heat with the quick installation of a backyard pool or hot tub this summer, they’d better think twice.
As of 2022 in Niverville, inground or aboveground pools or hot tubs with a capacity of more than two feet of water now require a permit and an inspection by a building inspector before pool use will be authorized.
But a backlog in processing those applications has at least one local resident concerned that her family may not get much use out of their new pool this summer.
Tara Gardai is a Niverville mom who thought she’d done her homework. After purchasing her aboveground pool, Gardai checked the town office website for permit details. She filled out the application and delivered it to the town office as instructed.
According to Gardai, the staff person accepting the application indicated that the permit would require a wait of a few days.
That was on June 20.
One week later, Gardai contacted the town office and was told there was not enough staff to deal with the rising stack of permits, and Gardai’s was nowhere near the top. They were unable to provide any idea as to how long the wait would be.
“We gave up all camping trips this year to [put the swimming pool in, because] gas prices are way too crazy to go anywhere,” Gardai says. “We were actually hoping to have a pool party for my daughter’s eleventh birthday before the end of the month.”
After waiting well over two weeks, with little response from town staff, Gardai is getting anxious. Even after the permit is issued, the red tape won’t be complete. Once the pool’s safety enclosure has been erected, the town’s building inspector needs to be booked. Only upon the inspector’s final approval can the pool be filled with water.
“We knew an inspection was needed, but now I’m concerned that there will be a wait between having the pool set up and having the inspector come, because you aren’t supposed to set up aboveground pools and leave them empty,” Gardai says. “They need water to support the structure and keep the wind from blowing them away, so I’m not sure what to do there.”
Gardai decided to take her concerns to a local Facebook group in the hopes of finding others who were experiencing similar frustration and would be willing to petition town council to improve their response times for permit applications.
Many residents weighed in on that online conversation, some of them surprised at the new pool and hot tub permit requirement.
Eventually Niverville’s mayor, Myron Dyck, weighed in on the Facebook thread.
“The province has standards and requires that pools of a certain depth have a fence around,” wrote Dyck. “This standard was put in place as there had been instances of young children falling into pools and drowning… Thus with a permit we know who is putting [a pool] in and that it is being done with a fence.”
A second reason for the permit requirement, he added, was to be able to hold residents accountable when town property has been damaged or fences removed and improperly reinstalled after having their pools and enclosures erected.
“This then means that the other residents of the town have to have their tax dollars go to fix things so that the pool owner can put in their pool,” Dyck continued. “Thus, permits were established with a cost so as to ensure that if one needs to cross town property that we are aware of it so that the rest of the town does not have to pay for someone else’s carelessness.”
According to the town’s website, if access to town property is required to build your structure, a $1,000 deposit is collected in advance. Adequate restoration of town property needs to be completed followed by an onsite inspection by town staff before the deposit is returned in full or in part.
For Gardai, this was a moot point to her permit dilemma. She requires no access over town property to erect her structures.
Regarding the backlog in permit processing, Dyck sensitively alluded to a health situation being experienced by a member of the town office staffer who is typically responsible for permit processing.
Other staff have stepped in as much as possible to try and manage the backlog, according to Dyck, but with scheduled vacation time and parental responsibility outside of work, only so much can be expected of the other staff.
To hire new staff to fill the void, Dyck says, is not a sound fiscal decision in times when taxpayers are already burdened with rising costs.
“The easiest thing to do is to throw more money at this but with the high cost of fuel and goods we are trying to keep property taxes low so as not to put a further burden on families,” wrote Dyck. “I ask for patience as we work through a health matter with a staff member.”
Heather Miller is among the town’s administrative staff helping to oversee permit processing. Even before the backlog, she says, it was normal to expect a minimum of ten working days to have your permit processed.
While it’s not clear why, she adds that permit requests are way up from one year ago. In 2021, approximately 185 permits were processed that entire year.
This year, by early July, permit requests have already exceeded 100. This includes permits, building permits, and conditional use permits.
“We have an influx of permits that are being processed right now,” Miller says. “We’re looking at closer to three weeks [wait time]… We are doing what we can to get them out the door as quickly as possible.”
Like those waiting on passports and commodities that are difficult to access due to supply chain issues, patience may be the only option, Dyck adds.
“The costs to take care of what we have is going up,” Dyck wrote in an email to The Citizen. “Materials and trades are more expensive [as well as] cost of fuel for equipment and fixing equipment. I wish all residents could see the regular battle it is to manage and keep costs down and make do with less. I know many want it all and want it now. But the reality is sometimes we just need to be patient and make do with what is, especially if we know it is only for a short time.”
For Gardai, this is cold comfort when she has no way to assure her eight- and ten-year-old kids that their summer dream will become a reality.
“We sacrificed all other summer plans to be able to get a pool to enjoy this summer,” Gardai says. “So it’s a bit heartbreaking for all of us.”
This item reprinted with permission from The Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba