Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Water War Erupts in Erin, Ontario as Town Council Proposes Mandatory Hook-up to Town Water - at Homeowners' Expense

ERIN, Ontario, April 18, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - Erin, Ontario, the largest municipality in the province with no sewage treatment plant, is the site of escalating controversy in light of Town Council's proposal of mandatory hook-up to the municipal water supply for a small group of households and businesses located adjacent to Town water lines. Council is proposing by-law amendments at a meeting Tuesday, April 19 that could force approximately 100 homeowners to spend what the Town Water Superintendent estimates to be between $13,000- $17,000 per household to personally pay to decommission their wells and connect. The move is intended to offset a deficit water management situation created over the past several years.

"The only problem being addressed here is overspending of the Town's water budget," said Howard McRae, a local resident championing fairness on the issue of the water by-law. "Affected homeowners who responded to a water survey conducted over the last few days indicate no existing problems with water quality or quantity from their wells - so whose agenda is this and why wasn't the issue raised during the recent municipal election? And how fair is it for just 100 households to be forced to bear the brunt of balancing the community's water budget?"

In an April 15th memo to Council from Frank Smedley, Water Superintendent for the Town of Erin, revenue from the proposed hook-up is projected at $601,028 collected from the 100 households. Also under consideration by Council is a proposed water rate increase that would impact existing and new system users and which would net another $1.1 million in revenue by the end of 2019, Smedley reports. Erin and neighbouring Hillsburgh, also affected, are located northwest of Brampton.

"In Hillsburgh there are a number of smaller homes occupied by first-timebuyers like myself, and in this economy, we have no buffer to pay for this," said homeowner Jaime Baker. "If these by-law amendments go through, all the houses in my neighbourhood could be devalued and young families might be unable to sell and could be forced to walk away from their homes. This is a devastating possibility for everyone affected."

A consulting report recently completed on behalf of the Town of Erin did not advocate these measures, instead providing options for the Town to balance the water budget within three years without putting onerous pressure on residents. Another major Planning Report called SSMP which will lay out the blueprint for the area, is due within months, and 90 percent of residents surveyed indicate they would like Council to wait for that report before making by-law changes.

An editorial in the Erin Advocate of April 6 described the proposed by-law change as "a draconian measure" given Council has proposed withholding Building Permits for certain home improvements until homeowners sign up. And once homeowners hook onto the system, they can anticipate an estimated average spend of $1200 annually for the use of Town water. Retirees in the area have expressed grave concern about the sudden capital outlay and increased ongoing costs.

The Town of Erin has an ample and high-quality water source which accounts for why the Town hasn't previously needed to adopt wide-scale centralized sewage and water treatment to date. Ironically, the Town of Erin itself has the best of both worlds because in addition to using its own Municipal water, the Town draws on well water to service the local hockey arena and water a downtown park.

"It seems to me that the Town is setting a poor example when one or more of its own properties are serviced by both municipal water and a private well," a resident's submission to Council states.

McRae added that since implementing a sewage treatment system may be next, many think it would be preferable to hold off and install both more waterlines and sewer pipes at the same time - which would be fair to all residents and keep costs down through economies of scale and potentially accessing government grants.

"Ratepayers here simply can't understand why the sudden urgency to push through these amendments when the SSMP study will be completed within months. It just doesn't make common sense - like putting the cart before the horse," McRae said.

As many as 100 people are expected to turn out to express their opinions to Town Council at the Tuesday meeting slated for 7:30 p.m. For details go to www.erin.ca and for opinions on the matter, see radio broadcasters "The Motts" site at www.themotts.ca (go to Sound Off tab).

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