The District of Hope does plan to absorb 753 Waterworks into the municipality, following a lengthy discussion, unanimous vote and follow-up amendment at council on Monday night.
It’s a decision that’s been about 30 years in the making, and the cheers in council chambers spilled out into happy chatter in the streets once the meeting came to a close. The chambers had been packed with residents affected by 753 Waterworks mismanagement, and the audience spilled out into the lobby. More than 150 residents near Kawkawa Lake are connected to the private water company that’s been seized by the Province of B.C.’s water comptroller.
While those hooked up to the system are billed $73 a month for water in their taps, their neighbours on the municipal water supply pay about $22. It’s been a frustrating situation for residents, compounded by the fact the 753 Waterworks customers are now being serviced by the municipality.
But it seems like the long-running saga could be coming to a close this year, and everyone on council spoke in favour of bringing the 753 Waterworks houses into the fold. Their other options were to stop investigating the possibility of taking over the private water company, or to create a special service area for those homeowners.
“We all are on the same page here,” Mayor Peter Robb said at the outset of the discussion, and all councillors spoke in favour of taking action that would help the residents.
But by the time they got to question period at the end of the meeting, it was clear that the dozens of homeowners who filled the room were not satisfied. Council voted to have another report seeking more realistic costs of fixing the water system, including an estimate on the well and reservoir in question. That report will cost about $18,000 and would be ready by November.
Former Mayor Bud Gardner spoke first, asking why they weren’t working faster toward the goal of amalgamating the water service.
“I don’t understand why we don’t want to knit our community together,” he said.
Tessa Poole also spoke at length, adding that she has a long history of being the spokesperson for residents of her neighbourhood and is one of the only people left still willing to speak publicly.
“The system has deteriorated and there have been many days we have no water,” Poole said. She places the blame on the province, for not regulating the private water company properly in the first place, leading to disastrous problems over several decades.
“How come the province never gets held accountable?” she asked.
In 2015 residents conducted their own town hall meeting and the province sent a representative to ask questions at that time. But nothing changed, Poole said, and prices keep going up for a system that isn’t being upgraded or properly managed.
She questioned John Fortoloczky, the District’s CAO, on how much the District of Hope has paid to manage the water system over the last four years. While the number wasn’t readily available, the CAO did say he would prepare a report on it and make it publicly available.
Through the question period, it became clear to Mayor Robb that their motion earlier in the night was not worded strongly enough. He made a motion to change the wording to ensure the District enters into negotiations right away, and not wait on the results of the $18,000 report they’ve ordered.
There are many moving parts to the deal, including dealing with residents who have not paid their bills in some time. Fortoloczky said that the province has the ability to go in and turn off the taps to houses with outstanding bills, rather than have the District of Hope take on the debts. When he mentioned this, many in the audience said “no you can’t.”
With an amalgamation, the District of Hope will spread the cost of any needed upgrades to the system throughout the entire district. For that reason, they are hoping to considerably knock down the estimates they’ve been given to date. For example, one report said that all the fire hydrants would have to be replaced. That turned out to be untrue, as they just needed to be serviced. They are wondering what other portions of past reports — totalling up to $2 million in estimated costs — could be incorrect or over-exaggerated.
Despite the reasoning, those in the meeting said there have been too many reports already. Many who have been waiting since they voted to amalgamate with the District of Hope almost 30 years ago, and were told then that 753 Waterworks would be assimilated into the municipality.
For many years, customers were only paying $10 a month for water service. But that’s not the fault of the homeowners, Poole noted in her statements.
“We’re being treated like criminals, and we’ve done nothing wrong,” she said.
Some people have stopped paying their bills at all.
“We’re paying money to a company that’s not supplying us water,” she said, adding they overwhelmingly have voted in support of joining the District of Hope.