By MorinvilleNews.com Staff
Gibbons – After a lively and sometimes heated twenty-minute debate, Gibbons Town Council agreed to table its water bylaw for a couple months until administration can filter some of the content councillors found objectionable.
Central to the opposition to the bylaw was just who was ultimately responsible for water bills for rental accommodations and exactly how big a deposit renters would have to pay the Town to get their water turned on.
Some on council felt that shifting the responsibility to the owner would take away from attracting investors and developers to the town. Deputy Mayor Doug Horner argued that Gibbons’ economic development was more than upgraders and attracting a Tim Hortons to town.
“It’s investment – period – in our community,” he said. “I don’t think parts of this bylaw support that, so I won’t be supporting it.”
It was apposition that fellow councillor Bart Wyatt agreed with.
“You either want business in this town, including landlords, or you don’t want business in this town,” Wyatt said, adding that it was a simple yes or no question. “Nobody wants to take a risk at all except the landlord, who puts his money out to invest in this town.”
Wyatt said his research has shown that a tenant cannot be evicted for not paying his water bill and that no one, including the town office, wants the responsibility of collecting on unpaid water bills.
But the councillor’s objections extended past the responsibility for paying and collecting unpaid water debt. He was opposed to the proposed $250 deposit that the bylaw would require of future renters, particularly as Gibbons seeks to get people into affordable housing. The councillor felt that the current $150 was an excessive amount for renters to leave in trust as a deposit.
“This is damned well discrimination,” Wyatt said, apologizing for his expletive. “It’s discrimination in my eyes.”
Deputy Mayor Horner added that he felt it was the CAO’s job to turn the water off when bills go unpaid; something he felt was not being done promptly enough, given that the town has approximately $6,000 in overdue water bills, some of which is 90 days in arrears.
“When I pass through this bylaw, it seems to me that you’re just passing the buck onto the property owner,” Horner told administration, questioning why some accounts have been allowed to pass 90 days. “Why are we still supplying water to people that don’t pay their bills? We’re missing part of our job and passing the buck onto people that may want to invest in our town.”
Gibbons’ current water bylaw allows water to be shut off if unpaid after 30 days from the date of mailing; however, Horner said he could live with 60 days, so long as it was enforced. The Town has forgiven between $11,000 and $12,000 in unpaid water bills over the past five to six years.
The matter of just who will be responsible for renter’s water bill and how much they will pay to get it turned on will be brought back before council later this summer. However, if it is decided to shift responsibility from renter to owner, administration pointed out that the Municipal Government Act requires that those under the previous arrangement would be grandfathered.