Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor, EPC thaw stance on reimbursing owners

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City hall's most powerful councillors have had a change of heart -- and property owners with frozen waterlines will benefit.

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

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

In addition, the proposal calls on the city to 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 this morning, but there's likely to be little opposition to such a popular initiative.

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 spent either thawing the lines or hooking up temporary service.

But there was growing pressure on councillors to push the reimbursement date back beyond the end of February. Reports of frozen pipes were first reported in November.

This winter's frigid weather is being blamed for the unprecedented number of properties with frozen waterlines -- more than 2,100 properties since November -- where the frost penetrated down to almost three metres underground.

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

Winnipeg has been able to restore water service to 845 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, until Tuesday, that number has been increasing every day.

Katz last week speculated about pushing the reimbursement 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.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 B3

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