Time to drop the user pay system
Comment by Chris Simon Innisfil Scope
Imagine finding out that your well, which has been in use for decades, is producing unsafe drinking water.
It’s a situation that a significant percentage of residents living in the Big Cedar Point area have been facing since 2005. At that time, the town conducted water quality testing on wells in the area. It turns out, many fail to meet the minimum provincial guidelines for water quality safety, testing positive for E. coli and coliform contamination.
So, the town has compiled reports on the issue, and initially staff recommended Big Cedar residents pay for the installation of sewers and municipal water servicing to the 190 homes in the area. The total price tag was estimated at over $3 million.
While both the provincial and federal government have agreed to fund a significant portion of this project, the municipality plans to stick to a user pay system. If the entire project was approved as planned, it would cost Big Cedar residents between $25,200 and $68,100 to hookup. The costs place an unrealistic burden on the Big Cedar residents, something that was demonstrated through their clear lack of support for the project.
So a town committee agreed to reduce the scope of the project last week, allowing only water servicing to be considered for installation. Over the next few weeks, Big Cedar residents will be surveyed over the new plan, with results expected to be submitted to the town by mid- November. The town needs the results as quickly as possible, to meet deadlines and qualify for the federal and provincial funding.
While the new costs are lower, homeowners will be expected to pay between about$7,400 and $33,300. It’s still a heavy burden, one that could force Big Cedar residents to either live in unhealthy conditions or sell their properties.
Throughout this process, the town has failed its own residents.
Town councillors admit the expense of the project will likely continue to increase. But they worry about setting precedent by funding this project through municipal taxes. Councillor Lynn Dollin even suggested there would be an outcry from other residents, who paid the hookup costs in previous years.
Other councillors simply want to abandon the project, because of a lack of support from Big Cedar residents.
But the issue has never been about the installation, only the total costs. It’s unrealistic to expect that a majority of residents in existing communities within the town could afford to pay such high costs for hook-up. And when an issue becomes about the health and safety of a specific population, it should be up to the residents of an entire municipality to help out, and ensure the vulnerable receive support. Homeowners in Big Cedar are stuck; even selling an affected house will become difficult.
Residents that previously paid to hook-up to the municipal system have every right to be upset. But laws change everyday, it’s how a society progresses. Saying the municipality has never done something before is simply a faulty excuse, and highly hypocritical. The town upgrades bylaws, guidelines and policies constantly, in an effort to improve the lives of residents. Over the last few years, the town has approved several road, infrastructure and recreational projects that a majority of residents fail to use. Yet everyone pays into those projects, through the tax base.
It’s worth seriously exploring disbanding the user pay system, at least in situations where health and safety become serious concerns.