November 25th, 2020

Council delays vote on changes to City sewer service

By Jensen, Randy on November 4, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

City council had been considering making changes to the City’s free, in-home, 24-hour sewer service to either stop providing the service or begin charging service fees for residents, but an unexpected interruption in council chambers during Monday’s meeting forced a delay of vote on the issue for another two weeks.

According to the KPMG report, the sewer service currently costs the City $400,000 per year to keep two crews on 10 hours per day seven days a week. It also provides after-hour emergency service on an on-call basis 24 hours a day.

After looking at several other jurisdictions, KPMG concluded no other municipality it looked at offered this service free of charge as Lethbridge does.

A breakdown of annual calls cited in the presentation to council showed City crews funded under the program responded last year to about 1,057 calls on an emergency basis, 375 calls for an internal or side problem, 491 calls for non-emergency maintenance and 280 calls for City-initiated inspection.

Manager of Water, Wastewater and Stormwater operations Doug Kaupp presented council with three potential options to consider.

The City could leave things as they are as citizens are generally happy with the service. It could get rid of the program entirely and contract out these services for City-initiated inspections, and other emergency-related calls due to City infrastructure failures, to the private sector, or it could begin charging service fees to residents.

Kaupp suggested residents could be charged $180 for call outs between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and $280 per call out between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. In the case of a defective service surcharge, Kaupp suggested the current $120 flat fee could remain the same as it is now.

Kaupp explained to council the potential savings of implementing a fee system versus opting to contract out to the private sector. Kaupp predicted if the fee were applied it would likely reduce calls for service by 45 per cent as only those with an emergency would be likely to call.

He calculated the current cost of $400,000 per year could be reduced down to about $150,000 per year if this system were adopted. He calculated the cost to contract out the service outright to the private sector would likely still cost the City about $200,000 per year as private hourly rates tend to be more expensive than if his employees continued to do the work.

Therefore, Kaupp recommended council adopt a residential fee system as he had previously outlined.

Council had proposed to debate and pass a potential motion on Monday before the regular meeting was suddenly interrupted by a gentleman who pulled off his mask and began trying to speak to councillors away from the microphone provided in council chambers.

After the initial shock of his interruption faded away, it soon became apparent the man, whom The Herald later identified as Eugene Wilamowicz, wished to speak on the sewer bylaw and about some of his personal concerns with the City’s current sewer service.

Since Wilamowicz was not on the agenda as a designated speaker, Mayor Chris Spearman asked if council wished to let the man speak. Coun. Jeffrey Coffman proposed alternatively that Wilamowicz should have to follow procedure like all other prospective presenters and be registered through the City Clerk’s office to speak at a council meeting. He made a motion the proposed changes to the sewer bylaw be postponed until the next regular council meeting so Wilamowicz could have a chance to register as speaker if the City Clerk deemed it appropriate.

Council then voted in favour of the postponement.

Wilamowicz told The Herald later he had not been aware of the proper procedures, but what he wanted to tell council was he believed free service should still be offered in case of emergencies to residents. He also pulled out a package of roots he had recently removed from the City’s line coming into his property which was causing his home problems. He wanted councillors to consider amending the bylaw so the City would provide preventative root removal from its sewer lines as part of its calls for service.

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