When Brooke Leystra opened the water bill for the family farm, she “just about died.”
Leystra and her husband, Scott, usually pay between $1,200 and $1,500 per month for water but the January bill was $7,500.31. They were hoping to get a little help from Enniskillen Township, which provides water to the pork operation in the very easterly edge of the municipality, but so far it’s not happening.
The Leystras knew there was a problem with the water just before Christmas. Scott tried to use a power washer but there was no pressure. He turned it off and started looking for the source of the problem. He even started digging.
The couple called in a backhoe to look some more and then decided to simply replace the water line from the water meter to the barn so they were sure it was fixed. After spending “a couple thousand dollars” to fix the problem, the Leystras waited for the water bill.
The township office called asking if there was a problem, saying they had unusually high water usage, before the bill was sent out. But they didn’t tell Leystra what the final bill would be.
“We knew something was coming because our water usage was higher but when I opened the bill, I just about died.”
The $7,500 is about what the Leystras budgeted for one year of water use and it is a tough pill to swallow. “We just came out of a really hard time and we’re trying to claw our way back and now this…it seems like you can’t catch a break.”
The Leystras aren’t the only one facing an extraordinarily high bill. Al Langford who lives on Petrolia Line got a bill for $1,000 – again about a years’ worth of water charges in one bill. He also paid to have the line to his house repaired as is required by the township, but he’s looking for help with the supersized bill.
Langford and the Leystras were both asked Enniskillen Township council for some relief at a recent council meeting. Both were willing to pay the majority of the bill but felt it was unfair for the municipality to “profit” from the problem.
Enniskillen buys its water from Petrolia at a cost of $1.31 per cubic meter and charges its residents $1.71 per cubic meter. By law in Ontario, water systems are supposed to pay for themselves and the municipality uses the 40-cent per cubic meter to pay for the administration and capital costs of the system.
But Langford and Leystra say after their regular bill has been paid, the municipality should ask only for the $1.31 per cubic meter cost of the water. That would save Langford about $200 and the Leystras about $1,700.
“We wouldn’t ask them to take a loss,” says Brooke Leystra. “We’re hoping they would let us pay what they pay; that they wouldn’t profit from our misfortune.”
Langford agrees. “I feel it’s the principal of it,” he tells The Independent. “My water bill is always paid, my taxes is always paid…Why does the township need to make a profit from the misfortune of a taxpayer?
“I don’t think what I was asking was unreasonable.”
But council wasn’t willing to give the property owners any relief, according to Mayor Kevin Marriott. “We don’t rebate bills– it’s a tough one,” he says. “We used to way back when make exceptions for people (but) it got so expensive it was hard to justify it…you feel bad for someone… A lot of people would be upset if we wrote them off and it put the prices (for water) up.”
And while council wasn’t willing to give Langford and the Leystras any relief, Marriott says they are going to look at the “no rebate” policy.
Administration will check around to other municipalities in the region to see what they do to see if Enniskillen’s policy is outdated.
“You feel really bad for these people, but it’s not like we get the water for nothing; if we were to rebate them then everyone else pays. But it is something we’re reviewing to see what other municipalities are doing.”