Angry crowd to take legal action over mandatory pipeline charge
By Liz Dadson
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A group of angry property owners packs the Kincardine council chamber last night (Aug. 13), urging council to reconsider a bylaw that requires all landowners along the lakeshore water pipeline route to pay a mandatory capital charge
A crowd of angry property owners turned hostile after Kincardine council refused to reconsider a bylaw that requires all landowners along the lakeshore water pipeline route to pay a mandatory capital charge.
More than 100 people packed the council chamber last night (Aug. 13), with six delegations outlining the problems with the bylaw which will cause hardship for a lot of property owners, and goes against the promise made 10 years ago when the pipeline was built.
Michael Smith, spokesman for the group, told council that there is currently $5.1-million in Kincardine water reserves which would cover the $1.5-million stranded debt from the pipeline.
However, the four members of council: deputy Anne Eadie and councillors Maureen Couture, Candy Hewitt and Kenneth Craig, voted against using those reserves, or any other municipal reserve, to pay off the debt, said Smith.
Consequently, in April, the decision was made to charge each property owner along the pipeline route, a capital charge of $7,260 per lot.
Calling this Kincardine's "broken promise," Smith said that most of the discussions leading to the bylaw were held between November, 2013, and April, 2014, when many property owners were not in the area.
"Council was also aware that Randy Roppel (councillor for Ward 3 - former Bruce Township), who was on vacation, would have voted for Option 3 which would have paid off the $1.5-million stranded debt with reserves," said Smith.
"Attempts were made to delay the vote until Randy (Roppel) would be back, and certain members of the council forced the vote, knowing he was the councillor representing a significant portion of the people most affected by the bylaw.
"This is a serious, cynical and deliberate departure from democracy."
Smith said there was no attempt by council, between November and April, to advise the targeted property owners that council was contemplating a tax of $7,260 on each property (without a municipal water connection) to solve the debt problem.
"We have formed the Kincardine Pipeline Promise Association for the purpose of opposing the 'broken promise'," said Smith. "We have retained a law firm with significant municipal experience to challenge the broken promise legally."
He said the group is collecting funds to pay legal fees and believes it has a strong case that the bylaw is not legal and can be quashed under Section 273 of the Municipal Act and under the principles of natural justice.
Smith called for one member of the prevailing side - Eadie, Couture, Hewitt or Craig - to reconsider his/her position, allowing a re-vote during the first two weeks of September, with full council present.
His presentation was followed by five delegations by people negatively affected by the proposed capital charge.
Valerie Ryall, speaking on behalf of her mother, Florene O'Brien, said the family has had a cottage on Lorne Beach for 59 years. It is 800 feet from the pipeline at Upper Lorne Beach Road and the cost would be prohibitive to hook up.
Ken Young, speaking on behalf of his mother-in-law, Linda Galina, said she is a year-round resident and has lived here for 42 years. She is now 86 years old.
She has good well water that is properly tested. Her driveway is 1,500 feet long, and lies between Craig Drive and Whippoorwill Lane, and connecting to the pipeline is not feasible.
Karen Ballok, who lives on Victoria Street in Inverhuron, has a driveway that is 1,000 feet long, so hooking up to the waterline would be an enormous expense.
She has a second property in Inverhuron and had two offers from prospective buyers but they were scared off because of the lingering pipeline issues.
Sylvia Stepnow spoke on her own behalf, and on behalf of Mary Morris and other double-lot owners.
She said that 10 years ago, council sent written letters to property owners saying that hook-up to the pipeline was optional. In 2014, council has decided hook-up is now mandatory.
Stepnow has lived in Inverhuron since 1972 and worked 23 years as a registered nurse in the Municipality of Kincardine. She is retired and on a fixed income and the decision by council is "devastating."
"It's a hardship for a number of retirees," she said, "and for our good neighbours and citizens who are still working. It could force some of us from our property."
She urged council to rethink the decision on the bylaw and "undo what should never have been done."
Ross Geiger, speaking on behalf of his parents, Rev. Gordon and Audrey Geiger, read a letter written by his father.
It stated that 10 years ago, council reassured people that only those who wanted the municipal water would be hooking up and paying. Then with no justification, an arbitrary decision means that everyone has to pay for the water.
"This broken promise is not in keeping with a fair and democratic process," Geiger said.
Smith also presented council with a 65-name petition, gathered at the group's July 12 meeting. The petition states: "I would like to register my opposition to Bylaw 2014-044 which requires that I pay $7,260 for water that I do not want or need."
Councillor Jacqueline Faubert said she remains opposed to the bylaw, but was concerned about the accuracy of some of the group's statements.
She reminded the crowd that mandatory connection is not in the bylaw, only mandatory payment of the capital charge.
Also, she noted that, with reference to Roppel being away when the April vote was taken, council has no discretion over scheduling.
Eadie, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of the mayor, said the original vote in November, 2013, was 5-3, with Eadie, Hewitt, Craig, Couture and councillor Mike Leggett in favour, and Kraemer, Roppel and councillor Ron Coristine against. Faubert was absent.
That agreement directed staff to move ahead with the following option, as outlined by the treasurer last fall:
Option 2 - Mandatory payment only, not mandatory connection. This requires all properties with a dwelling to pay the capital charge, including Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustment, but excluding the premium. As of Jan. 1, 2013, this would be $5,802 base, plus $1,082.87 CPI, plus $300 reserve fund contribution, for a total $7,184.87 capital charge.
In addition, all vacant lots would be assessed the capital charge, plus the fire capital charge of $379 plus CPI, for a total of $449.74.
To ensure fairness, a refund of the premium charge would be made to the 23 property owners who connected between 2005 and now.
Property owners would have the option of paying the capital charge in a lump sum by December, 2014, or finance the amount over a 10-year period through the municipality. At the current interest rate, property owners can expect to pay about $900/year over a 10-year period.
If all remaining 251 ERUs are required to pay the capital charge of $7,185, this would generate $1.8-million. Once the premiums are refunded (about $60,000), that would generate $1.743-million, which would pay off the debt. Any residual would be transferred to reserve funds.
By the time of the April vote, Coristine had resigned and Roppel was absent, so the vote was 4-3, with Eadie, Hewitt, Craig and Couture in favour, and Kraemer, Roppel and Leggett against.
"Elected officials asked for that vote to be delayed," argued Roppel. "But council decided, no, this is important. You could've waited for this elected official to come back."
"We followed procedures under the Municipal Act," said Eadie. "We have nine members of council so a quorum is five. We can have a meeting with five members of council present."
She said that often councillors are away; in fact, many were away this summer, and two were absent for the Aug. 13 meeting.
"You were away all of April," she said. "Everybody has different ideas of what's important. If we had to defer everything when one member of council was away, we would not be able to meet and do anything meaningful."
Eadie told the crowd that if anyone has a property that is not buildable or has unique features or cannot be served by the pipeline, he/she should contact municipal staff in the building and treasury departments.
Ryall said she went that route and was told that she would have to get an engineer look at the property which would cost thousands of dollars.
Eadie began to explain why the April decision was made, regarding the pipeline, emphasizing financial responsibility and the compromise that property owners would pay only the mandatory capital charge, with no mandatory hook-up.
However, she was greeted with a barrage of rude remarks from the crowd.
"If you are going to act like that then there will be no further explanation," said Eadie.
She asked the question: Would any member of council who voted on the prevailing side of the bylaw table a motion to appeal or amend Bylaw 2014-044?
No councillor responded.
Several cat-calls came from the audience, and Eadie declared them out of order.
"Since nobody put forward a motion, we are done," she said.
Following the meeting, Smith said the group's next step is to take legal action.
"We have a solicitor form Durham on retainer," he said. "We hope to have an opinion letter by the end of August and have our solicitor present that to council.
"We are very disappointed with the decision tonight. We thought one of the four would change their minds.
"We have no choice but to proceed with legal action."
He said the group continues to accept donations for this process at the website: www.kincardinebrokenpromise.com
For more on this story, read the article below:
© Liz Dadson
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014