It will soon likely be harder and more expensive for residents of North Cowichan to request financial reductions from the municipality on excessive water bills related to leaks.
Council gave the first three readings at its meeting on April 5 for changes to North Cowichan’s water bylaw that would include a new administrative fee for processing adjustments to discourage requests for very small leak adjustments.
As well, a provision would be added that leaks have to fixed in a certain period of time by a professional plumber, and if residents apply for an adjustment to their water bill due to a leak, they would be ineligible to apply again for five years.
Additionally, the adjustment amount is being amended to include a maximum payment of $2,000 for commercial premises, and to increase the maximum payment for residential properties from $500 to $1,000.
Coun. Christopher Justice asked what problem the municipality is trying to solve with these changes.
“Are we really inundated with so many requests for reductions on water bills related to leaks that we need to make it that much harder for people to request adjustments?” he asked staff.
Financial director Talitha Soldera said one of the main goals of the recommended changes is to encourage people to fix their leaks expeditiously so that water is not wasted.
“We do have water shortages all the time and by establishing some ground rules with respect to how quickly people get them fixed helps encourage them to have the leaks fixed more quickly, and also to have them fixed professionally so the leak doesn’t recur from year to year,” Soldera said.
A staff report by Soldera said a properly repaired leak by professional plumbers should last significantly longer than five years, so additional adjustments to water bills should not be needed in that time.
“We’re mostly trying to save water but also to establish a process,” she said.
“It does take quite a bit of staff time to address all the requests we receive. It takes time for staff to talk to a person, work through the process, find out if they’ve gotten the leak fixed and ask for other information. Then it has to go to engineering and sometimes that department has to send someone out to inspect it, and then sometimes staff have to be sent back out to reread the meter.”
Soldera said staff did a review of the water-leak bylaws of a number of other local governments on Vancouver Island to determine how they handle their forgiveness policies.
“We have given [our recommendations] a slightly longer timeline than we found in other [jurisdictions], but we’re just trying to be more in conformance what those other local governments have done,” she said.