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City to waive pipe-thawing back to Dec. 1

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City hall’s most powerful councillors had a change of heart – and property owners with frozen water lines will benefit.

Members of executive policy committee held a special meeting this morning and unanimously proposed a change of policy: reimburse property owners who were billed $305 to thaw frozen water lines on their side of the property line, back to Dec. 1.

"The whole idea was to be fair... and to create as much an even playing field as possible," Mayor Sam Katz said this morning.

In addition, the city will also reimburse property owners who hired a contractor to thaw their frozen lines, up to a maximum of $305.

The proposal will be brought to council Wednesday, but there’s likely to be little opposition to such a popular initiative.

Only last week, Katz and his EPC members postponed a decision on waiving fees until the administration submitted a comprehensive report on the financial implications of further compensating property owners.

In early March, the water and waste utility decided to stop the billing for thawing on private property effective Feb. 28 – too much time was spent determining where the freeze was located, time that was determined should be spend either thawing the lines or hooking up temporary service.

But there was growing pressure on councillors to push the re-imbursement date back beyond the end of February – reports of frozen pipes were first reported in November.

This winter’s constant frigid temperatures is being blamed for the unprecedented number of properties with frozen water lines – 2,180 properties since November – where the frost penetrated down to almost eight feet underground.

Similar situations have been reported in most cold-weather cities across Canada and the U.S.

Winnipeg has been able to restore water service to only 821 properties, and is providing a temporary hose connection to another 657 properties. More than 1,300 properties are still waiting to have their lines thawed and that number has been increasing every day.

Katz last week had speculated about pushing the re-imbursement date back to Jan. 1.

Councillors met with administration Monday afternoon to review the situation and there seemed to be consensus for the Dec. 1 date. The immediate cost to the city was estimated at $210,000 – based on those property owners who had already been billed for the work.

The change of heart pleased Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who last week accused Katz and EPC of turning their backs on Winnipeggers.

"This is good news for residents," Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said. "It’s terrible to lose out because you were a day or so away," from the Feb. 28 deadline.

Havixbeck said the city can easily find the initial $210,000 needed to cover the reimbursement from the city’s $1.7 billion budget.

Havixbeck said many property owners will still be out of pocket because some contractors charged upwards of $1,000 for their work.

Katz said property owners who had been billed by the city will have the charge reversed on a subsequent water bill.

For property owners who hired contractors, Katz said a process on reimbursing those individuals will be worked out.

Katz said the city doesn’t know how many affected property owners hired a contractor between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, but added the cost was a secondary factor when trying to reach a fair settlement for everyone.

"We’ll find that out down the road," Katz said. "We’re doing what’s right – we’re not making a decision solely on dollars and cents."


Updated on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM CDT: Updates with full writethru, adds motion made by EPC

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