A replacement for the current water and wastewater bylaw was up for debate by Bashaw town council at their meeting Nov. 7.
There are several significant proposed changes and new sections, most of which outline the responsibilities of the town and the property owner. However, council did suggest further changes that need to be made while directing administration to gather more research into a few potentially challenging sections.
CAO Theresa Fuller said, “I’m not entirely happy with the bylaw,” adding that another look would be good in order to see if the town might have gone too far in some areas.
Included in the changes is a list of responsibilities of both the town and property owners, with the section noting that blockages shall be the fault of the property owner — by omission, neglect or on purpose — unless it was caused by a tree on town property or failed town infrastructure being one that might become difficult for the town.
“That will likely be challenging to enforce. There is no local plumber and typically (plumbers) try to push the blockage, making it difficult to determine whether the source was the owner or the town,” Fuller stated.
“Typically in the past, the town has assumed the cost for a lot of blockages and freeze-ups because of that.”
Fuller added there were a lot of locations that had water lines freezing last year, a fact that had some councillors questioning the validity of finding owners at fault.
“If there is more than one time, it is their fault even if it’s hard to determine,” said Mayor Penny Shantz.
Coun. Rosella Peterman added it may cost the town more to dispute it than to fix it.
Fuller did note the town does have some protection through provincial legislation, but that staff have been more than accommodating especially with no local contractors and not wanting people to be without service for a lengthy time.
She added it is further complicated by the fact the town has the capacity to do the job, but the owner is responsible once it reaches the property line.
In the end, Coun. Rob MacDonald suggested staff has to look further into just what the liability would be for the town and maybe taking this out of the bylaw, instead leaving it as just a policy.
Shantz also asked about another change — not planting deep-rooted trees over utility services and charging owners for tree removal if damage occurs to those services.
“How would people know what kind not to plant?” she said, to which Fuller stated the town would generate some awareness and education for public reference.
Other somewhat contentious portions of the bylaw included the rolling of unpaid bills or outstanding amounts onto property taxes as were billing a base charge on all properties with water service and retaining ownership of a water meter while making owners “purchase” the meter.
MacDonald felt the attempt to charge vacant properties may open up legal issues similar to a recent situation in a small Alberta village.
“I would like to see this checked out, as as another community is dealing with something similar,” he said.
It turned out the actions taken by the village was ruled discriminatory by the Alberta Utilities Commission and it had to pay back $700.
He also wanted to see an “administration fee” charged for water meters. That way there is no confusion that the town owns the meter and that it is treated like a fixture that remains part of the property.
Also included in the bylaw are protections so individuals don’t remove, alter or tamper with a water meter; costs involved and instructions for owners that wish to have bleeders or freeze protection devices (known as trickle valves); allowing authorized personnel to enter premise and land to inspect services plus order owners to fix issues when necessary; providing the CAO with decision-making authority regarding the system; and, banning the use of fire hydrants except by the fire department or public works or in an emergency in addition to not allowing movable or permanent obstructions that interfere with hydrant access or visibility.