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City dragging feet on reimbursement for water lines: Havixbeck

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A city councillor has accused the administration and members of the executive policy committee of deliberately delaying reimbursing property owners charged $305 by the city to have their frozen water lines thawed.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck said the administration should have come to this morning’s executive policy committee meeting with the information needed to push the issue to next week’s council meeting.

"I feel the mayor, the executive policy committee are not listening to citizens," Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said. "We have to have some empathy here."

EPC instructed water and waste director Diane Sacher to prepare a report, looking at the potential cost to reimburse owners already charged $305 for thawing services between Jan. 1 and Feb. 27.

Sacher told reporters the report to EPC will be comprehensive.

"What council is looking for is how much is involved and are there any other implications as well," Sacher said. "We want to provide council with as much information as possible so they can make a decision."

The question of reimbursement arose as the frozen water line situation turned into a city-wide emergency.

The civic administration decided two weeks ago to change its policy to charge property owners if the line freeze was found to be on their property: It was taking too long to determine where the freeze was located. The decision was arbitrarily made to be retroactive to Feb. 28.

But there has been growing support to push that date back to Jan. 1 and reimburse those property owners.

Havixbeck said Sacher told the finance committee last week it would be easy to gather the information needed to determine the financial impact but she came to EPC without any of that information.

"A commitment was made (by Sacher) last Thursday that these numbers were not going to be difficult to pull together and that we could have had them here at EPC so this decision could keep moving."

Havixbeck said she’s also concerned that EPC did not impose a deadline on when Sacher has to return with the information.

"We have a (situation) that is not really thinking about citizens," Havixbeck said. "We need to pull out and step up and help citizens here."

Katz defended the EPC decision to request a report, adding council will need to know the financial impact before making a decision.

Katz said the report should also include the number of property owners who hired their own contractors rather than wait for the city to thaw their water pipes and the potential cost for that work.

It’s also possible reimbursement could be extended to those affected before Jan. 1, Katz said, adding water lines were freezing in December.

"Let’s get all the facts and figures, which I think they can get rather quickly," Katz told reporters following the EPC meeting, adding he’ll find out later today how much time is required to prepare the report.

Katz said he supported the administration decision to change the policy effective Feb. 28, adding he believes there is an argument to reimburse property owner for work done before that date.

"If there are any reasons not to do it, I’d like to hear it," from the administration, Katz said. "What we try to do in life and at city hall is try to create an even playing field. That’s not always easy to do."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 3:12 PM CDT: Adds Sacher comments to reporters

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