GUEST SHOT: City council’s $3,600 thank-you to its taxpayers
Most of us remember the water meter referendum of 2001when, because there was opposition to universal water-metering, a referendum was held on the issue.
The referendum was meant to be an exercise in democracy, in which we were able to give direct and clear direction to city council. The result was unambiguous: Kamloops residents did not want water meters.
Despite the clear referendum results, our current city council decided to ignore the referendum and pass a universal water-metering bylaw mandating water meters in each home.
In my opinion, it is fair for those who are concerned about protecting democracy to be concerned about this.
It was no secret city council was constantly being petitioned by bureaucracy to install water meters.
It is also true the referendum was getting a little dated.
That said, in the face of such a clear referendum result, democracy and the appearance of democracy would have been better served by holding another referendum.
Actions can speak louder than words.
Not only did city council shy away from another referendum, but it put terms into the water-meter bylaw that can only be described as punitive.
In other words, not only was the democratic voice ignored, but the bylaw was written to hammer out any dissent.
Here is how the bylaw is punitive.
The city or its contractor will make three attempts to contact you to set up a time to install the meter.
If this fails, the city will make a fourth try.
If the fourth attempt is unsuccessful, a single registered letter will be sent to you, requiring arrangements for the meter installation to be made within 14 days.
The letter also indicates that, if the meter is not installed, an “increased fee” will be charged.
This “increased fee” is $3,600 over and above your regular water charges.
You will still be paying for water; you simply have the privilege of paying an extra $3,600. This $3,600 fee is charged every year you do not have a meter. It is an ongoing charge until a meter is installed.
The bylaw is kind enough to set out that the interest on any arrears is a punitive 12 per cent a year.
Further, any unpaid amounts at year’s end are deemed to be taxes in arrears.
This deeming of any arrears as taxes has significant consequences.
Under the Local Government Act, the city is obligated to hold a tax sale every September of properties with taxes in arrears.
The effect of this is that, if you do not accept a water meter, you will be fined $3,600 a year, be charged 12 per cent interest on any unpaid amounts and have your house sold in a tax sale if you do not pay the fine and interest.
If the object of the “increased fee” was to ensure everyone paid their fair share for water, it would not be $3,600.
Remember, you will still be paying for water under the bylaw.
Refusing a meter will only mean the city will not be able to charge you extra if you exceed certain amounts of water use set out in the bylaw.
To ensure those who refused meters were charged their fair share, even a formula designed to over-estimate their usage would probably amount to only an extra few hundred dollars a year, not $3,600 at 12 per cent interest.
The heavy-handedness of the bylaw leads to the conclusion that the “increased fee” was meant to force every home to accept a meter rather than to cover actual water use.
This speaks volumes about the state of our democracy.
The bylaw was not written so those who refused a meter would pay their fair share.
It was written to force every resident into compliance.
Think about it as city council’s personal thank-you for your vote in the water-meter referendum.
If any of you would like to give a democratic thank-you back, I am told city council members who voted for the meters were Peter Milobar, Nancy Bepple, John De Cicco, Jim Harker, Marg Spina, Pat Wallace and Denis Walsh.
Shawn Buckley is a constitutional lawyer who writes and
on democratic issues.