Coun. Wirischagin asks for voluntary water metres this year

Shara JJ Cooper
By Shara JJ Cooper
March 25th, 2014

The topic of water metres came before council again at their regular meeting Monday night. Coun. Michael Wirischagin brought up his concerns during his councillors report early in the meeting.

He started by telling council he was part of a group that is dedicated to improving communities in BC. When he met with this group, they discussed water metres, which flagged some concerns for him.

“Yes, all communities are heading toward the installation of water metres but very very few are looking at them universally. Vancouver, Castlegar, Kelowna all have them but all have made them voluntarily and on new billets only,” said Wirischagin.

He went on to say that the people from those communities that he talked to, did not have concerns about financial repercussions because they had opted for volunteer water metres versus universal.

Wirischagin also said that the council should stand by the error that was sent out in the billing newsletter. The error said that the metres would be installed in 2015, but council intends to start installing them in 2014.

“The discussions (at the meeting were) set around community trust and integrity … doing what you said you are going to do even if you make a mistake and changing timelines because of the mistake… it would show that the community lives up to its word,” he said, adding that there is a sense of mistrust in all levels of government and this would be a step in setting that right.

During his report, Wirischagin went on to raise concerns about entering private homes. He said that RCMP officers can’t even enter a private residence without permission, so how are they going to install water metres if a homeowner refuses access. He said this could raise liability issues and he doesn’t know the answers. 

Wirischagin said there are many questions regarding legality and that the city cannot fight each individual case in court, but with voluntary water metres the home owner obviously obliges and they don’t have the same legal concerns.

Time is also an issue according to Wirischagin. He said that the city would need to install at least four metres a day, with finished carpentry for 30 days a month if the water metres were to be installed by the next election. Otherwise, the new council would be handed a messy situation and could just eliminate the water metres, meaning that the money that had already gone into it would be wasted.

After Wirischagin finished making his case, he put the following motion before council: “(that) council move forward with the water metering project voluntarily in the year 2014 and move to universal application in 2015 as originally stated by the city in its billing cycle.”

Coun. Neil Krog seconded the motion and the council chambers heard applause from the audience. The meeting was well-attended.

Krog asked if staff had answers to the question of legality.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Doug Allin said that they would need a list of the questions to send to their solicitor, which would later be discussed with council in-camera. Allin went on to say that if council went that direction, the city would lose considerable money in regards to consulting fees.

Krog said that he supports getting advice from the solicitor but that wasn’t what was being address in the motion.

Mayor Brian Taylor agreed, “And what we are being told is that is going to be an expensive and time consuming process.”

“But look at the alternatives,” said Wirischagin, adding he would be happy to table the motion until the council got answers from the solicitor. Wirischagin stated that he supports voluntary water metres and that they could move to universal water metres in the new year or see what the new council decides.

Allin said that the water metres could be considered voluntary because the city does not have the right to go into someone’s home.

“When we do voluntary water metre installation inside the home, that’s what cuts the costs,” said Allin, adding that homeowners will be making appointments to have the water metres installed.  He went on to say that the timeline and process isn’t new to companies and that they will follow a “robust” plan.

According to Allin, the term “voluntary” because council can’t enter private premises without permission. However, depending on how the bylaw is written, the customer may have water metres installed at the property line if they refuse to have them in the home. The difference in cost would most likely be paid by the consumer, not the city, and that that home owners may volunteer to have water metres installed inside their home to save costs, regardless of if they want them.

Taylor said that he would be voting against the motion because it would waste of public money as did Coun. Cher Wyers and Coun. Patrick O’Doherty.

“I just want to state my objection as well to the motion at this time,” said Wyers adding that she has been on council for six years and a resident of Grand Forks for 17 years. “I have seen the work that the councils before (have) done in this community with regards to water conservation … with regards to summer restrictions for water.  And still we see our water consumption rising. I see this as an opportunity for (our) community to recognize the next step for us is the water metering and to be part of a huge conservation (effort).”

Smith said that he agreed with the other councillors and that he seconded the motion so it would go into discussion. He said that water is a “most precious resource” and that it is extremely important to conserve.

Krog said he would support a tabling motion but not Wirischagin’s original motion. Wirischagin reaffirmed that he is not opposed to water metres and that he supports water conservation. He then moved to table the motion and Krog seconded. Krog and Wirischagin were the only councillors that voted in favour of tabling the motion for another meeting.

Taylor then called for a vote on Wirischagin’s original motion, which moved to have only voluntary water metres in 2014. Wirischagin was the only one that voted in favour, with the remaining councillors opposed and the motion was defeated.

Wirischagin asked that his vote be recorded on record.


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