New tiered system not making ditch tax more appealing for Halifax homeowners
Published Monday, March 12, 2018 10:19PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, March 12, 2018 10:24PM ADT
Despite reductions in many bills, some homeowners in rural areas of Halifax still aren’t happy with stormwater charges from the water utility.
Halifax Water was granted permission to introduce a tiered system last July, and bills have now started going out.
Homeowners are now charged based on the amount of runoff from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and paved driveways, on their properties, but some say the estimations on their bills don’t make any sense.
Chuck McDonald of Wellington has been fighting the so-called ‘ditch tax’ since it was implemented, flatly refusing to pay bills sent to him.
Halifax Water says about 4 per cent of customers still haven’t paid.
McDonald appealed the charges a number of times, providing measurements, video and other evidence, but to no avail. Halifax Water says runoff from his property makes its way to a ditch 1.5 kilometres in another subdivision.
McDonald says that reasoning defies basic logic.
“It’s not like it’s asphalt or compacted gravel or anything like that,” says McDonald. “There’s a wetland that surrounds my property that it would have to go through. There’s mossy vegetation that it would have to go through."
He adds the water would also have to travel uphill for part of the journey.
McDonald says he’s asked the Utility and Review Board what type of evidence would be required to successfully appeal the charges, but he can’t get an answer except that the file is now closed.
Homeowner Jamie Keyes is also questioning the water-ditch tax, saying flooding would have to be apocalyptic for stormwater to make its way up the hill to the ditch in front of his home in Hammonds Plains, N.S. He and his wife paid the bill anyway.
“Well, we better pay it because I want to keep my house,” says Keyes, chuckling.
He notes the fee was nominal, but his wife submitted their payment with a note of complaint.
However, not everyone is complaining about their bills. Halifax Water says the new tiered system has actually reduced bills for nearly 90 per cent of its customers, and notes maintaining hundreds of culverts and catch-basins is costly.
“Obviously, the more hard surface or impervious area you have on your property, the more stormwater you’re generating, so the more your bill,” says spokesperson James Campbell.
Halifax Water stands by its calculations, saying all properties have been assessed using satellite imagery, geographic information, as well as subdivision plans and Google Earth.
“Every property that we have a bill for, that we’ve distributed a bill for, we have information indicating what their service is and how much impervious area they have on their property,” says Campbell.
“We have a number of ways to measure this stuff. We’re not just making it up.”
He also says customers are always welcome to dispute their bills.
“We’re not in the business of charging customers for service they’re not receiving,” says Campbell. “So, in situations like that, then they should appeal, indicating that they don’t receive stormwater service.”
McDonald says he’s done just that, but his appeals have been rejected. He says he even took his own measurements and gathered video evidence, which he submitted to the Utility and Review Board.
“I took video of where their proof line is and how the water actually makes its way into that area,” he says. “I went to the point of GPS coordinates and what compass direction you can point it. This is all available. They have all this information.”
McDonald says he has taken his concerns to Halifax Water, Halifax City Hall, and the Utility and Review Board, but has gotten nowhere.
He met with a lawyer to discuss the matter Tuesday afternoon.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Bruce Frisko