'This is just outrageously high': Fall River homeowners shocked by $9,610 municipal bill
FALL RIVER, N.S. -- When Jeremy Cayea got the bill from the city totaling more than $9,600 earlier this week, he couldn't believe it.
“On top of that, the bill, which is supposed to be paid by August 27, if you can't afford to pay the ten grand all up front,” he says, “they put you on a payment plan with interest.”
According to the “Guideline for Payments” sent to Cayea by the city, that interest with payments until August 27 of 2040, would cost him another $4,062. The document calculates payments based on interest of 4.45 per cent per year, calculated on the principal and applied daily.
It’s all to help the city pay for improvements in a neighborhood Cayea just moved into last April.
“It's my understanding that the bill was supposed to be for people who lived on Fall River Road,” he says, “that were going to be benefiting from the water hook-up.”
What's he's referring to is a multi-million-dollar municipal water extension project completed on Fall River Road in late 2018.
That project – the Fall River Service Extension – was funded by all three levels of government. The federal government and the province pitched in 75 per cent of the projected $8.6 million cost.
The city decided to pay its portion using Bylaw L-137, which allows it to levy "a local improvement charge" (LIC) on every home and business on the road.
The plan to do so was a topic of discussion at city council, and a public meeting was held back in 2017, according to current District 1 Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon.
But a Q&A document on the project posted online by the city, also states “every property owner within the LIC area pays a share of the public portion of the system regardless of whether they are connected.”
Cayea says when he bought the house from his mother last year, she didn’t know much about it.
His address isn't on Fall River Road, but the edge of his wooded property borders it on one side.
Cayea is on well water and he says his septic field means he can't hook up to the city supply, even if he wanted to.
“I have nothing to do with the waterline, I don't benefit from it,” he exclaims.
Some homeowners right on Fall River Road told CTV News they did connect to the city water supply once the extension was complete, and they were happy with the results.
But for others who say they only knew there was some kind of bill on the way, the amount and the due date came as a shock.
“No one saw this coming, that it was going to be this amount, at such a short time to pay it, and then with that exorbitantly high interest rate,” says Emily Guthro.
"This is just outrageously high," she adds.
She’s among a number of residents along the road who say they can't afford to pay the full amount in that short amount of time.
Guthro also isn’t pleased with the 20-year payment option given by the municipality.
As a mother with two young children, she says it’s going to be difficult to afford, and hooking up to municipal water is also out of financial reach.
“And if you look at the demographic of Fall River Road, it's a lot of families, it's a lot of senior citizens who have fixed incomes,” Guthro adds, “where are they going to come up with this extra money that they had no clue was coming?
Guthro says she’s never had a problem with her well and doesn’t understand why she should have to pay to change something that already works.
While the project pre-dates Deagle Gammon’s time in office, the area councilor has been addressing residents’ concerns and trying to find solutions.
In the meantime, she encourages anyone who received the invoice to contact the municipality to work out better payment arrangements.
“Call HRM, they will absolutely work with people,” she says, “understanding that it is a pandemic, understanding that it is a bit of a sticker shock.”