Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City changes its tune on paying water bills

Irate homeowner 'just glad it's over'

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Todd Kerr complained to the Free Press and the city 'adjusted' its stand on taps.

CRYSTAL SCHICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Todd Kerr complained to the Free Press and the city 'adjusted' its stand on taps. Photo Store

Don't expect city hall to ever admit it was wrong, but it has "adjusted" its position on billing some people affected by frozen pipes for running their water.

The city Tuesday reversed a policy that required property owners to be responsible for their water bills if they left their taps running 24/7 after their frozen water pipes thawed on their own.

"The media coverage made them look bad," said Todd Kerr, a St. James resident who was boiling mad when told he was on the hook for the water bill if he let a tap run to prevent refreezing after his pipes thawed on their own after being frozen for 17 days.

The city is covering the additional cost for those residents whose pipes have been thawed and others in at-risk areas who have been told to leave a cold-water tap running.

City officials estimate it would cost a homeowner about $500 to leave one cold-water tap running at a pencil-width stream for three months -- about $5.40 per day.

However, for Kerr and others in his situation, the city had maintained that because city crews weren't involved in the thawing and were not advising them to keep their taps running, the city would not cover any extra water costs.

Kerr's situation was first detailed in Tuesday's Free Press. A couple of hours later, the city reversed its position.

Kerr said the city's position made no sense, especially since the city was absorbing the cost of thawing pipes on private property.

Kerr said he received a phone call Tuesday morning from a civic official who said the city would now cover the additional cost of running the taps.

"I could almost feel his red-faced expression when he was talking to me on the phone," Kerr said, adding the official "apologized profusely."

The same city spokeswoman who told the Free Press Monday that Kerr and others in the same situation are responsible for the entire water bill if they ran their taps 24/7, confirmed Tuesday what Kerr had been told -- the city had "adjusted" its position, not reversed it.

"We are adjusting processes as required to address a dynamic situation," she said.

Kerr said his home and several hundred more in his neighbourhood are now classified as part of the at-risk areas. He and his neighbours received a hand-delivered notice advising them they live in an area where the city waterlines might freeze and they should run a cold-water tap 24/7 as a preventive measure, with the city adjusting their water bill accordingly.

Kerr said the city official who called him Tuesday morning told him all properties within a five-street radius of his King Edward Street home were given the same notice Tuesday morning.

He said the city's about-face just made the city's earlier intransigence on his water bill that much harder to take.

"I told them before that there was no way to prove that the freeze was on my property, yet that's what they insisted," Kerr said. "Now they're telling me and all my neighbours that it's most likely the city waterline that could freeze.

"I'm just glad it's over."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2014 B2

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 10:41 AM CDT: Swaps graphic

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