First published Oct. 24, 2019
Ralph Layne was floored when he found out a problem with the sump pump in his Petrolia apartment led to a $14,200 bill.
And he was almost as surprised town councillors were not willing to ease the burden.
Layne and his wife, Caroline, first became aware of the problem Aug. 21. Bluewater Power called to tell the Laynes there was a “billing problem” with their water. (Bluewater Power bills Petrolia residents for the town owned water and sewer system.)
The couple were in their car on their way to visit their daughter when the representative called. “They asked if I had left a tap running or if there was a leak somewhere…the apartment was bone dry. She said ‘your bill is exceedingly high.’” Bluewater Power said the couple had used 1,240 cubic meters of water in a few days instead of their usual 10 cubic meters a month.
They didn’t discuss what the bill would be. When the Laynes returned to their home, they called the landlord who was already aware of the problem. Ralph had done some rough figuring and let him know the bill could be $10,000. It turned out his estimate was low. It stands now at $14,200.
The landlord, Paul Bremner, in a letter to council says a water-powered back up to the sump pump had been running for a number of days racking up the water bill.
It turned out, says Layne, the regular pump quit working Aug. 21 – something the seniors didn’t notice. The sump pump is under the stairs and can’t be heard.
By Aug. 26, Bluewater Power let the landlord know the water was still running and he had his handyman fix the problem the next day.
A few days later, the Laynes got their August water bill – it was over $12,900.
Caroline went to council to ask for help saying the water that was used by the sump pump didn’t go into the sewer system so perhaps the town would forgive some of the cost. That would have knocked the bill down to about $6,000.
Councillors asked staff to look into the problem. The Laynes were told the issue would be discussed at the Oct. 15 meeting.
“We were ready to go to council and we were advised by Mike Thompson….who suggested we not go…it would bring too much attention to the situation if people found out council was going to assist someone; it would set a precedent.”
So, the Laynes stayed away. And council turned down the couple’s request for relief from the astronomical water bill. The town’s policy states it won’t give relief to excessive water bills.
“The town was not responsible for any of the damages,” says Mayor Brad Loosley before council – with the exception of Councillor Marty Souch – decided not to make changes to the bill.
“About a year and a half ago we had an incident where a senior had water leaking under a house and wasn’t going into the sewer and was looking for relief; where do we start and where do we stop with this. Somebody’s toilet running could be devastating for two or three hundred dollars and are we opening ourselves up for constant (requests),” says Councillor Joel Field admitting he felt terrible for the couple and the landlord.
“You’re absolutely right and we’re going down a slippery path on this and the idea of setting a precedent is a concern.”
Souch suggested this large of a bill is extremely unusual. The town has requests for help from bills which range from $1,000 to $4,000.
The Laynes only heard about the decision Saturday, when their landlord visited asking the couple to approach the town if there was an appeal process – there isn’t. Ralph says they were assured they wouldn’t be on the hook for the bill – if it wasn’t paid it would be placed on the landlord’s 2020 tax bill.
Layne says his wife is still concerned that if the bill goes unpaid it will affect their credit rating.
Bluewater Power has given the couple and the landlord until November to work out the issue with the town without any penalty.