By David F. Rooney
City Council and Clearview Heights residents kissed and made up Tuesday as they discovered they had more in common than either side had seemed to think.
“W just want to move on,” said Alan Dennis, one of three spokespersons for Clearview Heights residents who had, until Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, believed that the City was, among other things, trying to wriggle out of paying its share of the neighbourhood’s long-awaited and long-debated sewer system.
Part of the problem was simple confusion. The terminology used by the City had changed in the five years since the more than $1.2 million project was first suggested. What are now called Dedicated Connection Fees (DCFs) were then called STP Fees (Sewage Treatment Plant) and people understood that those fees, estimated at the time to be $4,400 per lot would be fixed meaning, they thought, unchangeable.
Of course, that was not the case. Costs change over time and the cost of connecting properties to a new sewer line were estimated to have risen by roughly 30 per cent since 2004. So when landowners on CPR Hill were told that their connection fees were going up a lot they were, rather naturally, concerned — even angry.
Couple that with a widespread belief that the 36 lots owned by the City on the hill would not be hooked up to the sewer line and it began to appear to some people as though the municipal government was trying to save money at the expense of landowners in the Local Service Area. That was compounded by the belief that if the City hooked those properties up to the sewer line then their own DCFs would decrease. None of this was factual.
Meanwhile, from the point of view of some councillors it looked as though Clearview Heights residents were willfully trying to dodge the connection fees and shove the burden of the city’s portion of the project onto taxpayers across the city. They were also insulted by innuendo that City staff were incompetent and that the City as an entity wouldn’t care about potential cost overrruns. Again, none of this was true.
As Public Works Director Brian Mallett explained at a two-hour meeting of Council as a Committee of the Whole, the City has 14 lots that are being hooked up in Phase 1 of the sewerage project. The remaining 22 undeveloped lots will be hooked up during Phase 2, which is years away. Extending the service right now would add $218,000 to the total cost of the project and would increase the cost per linear foot by $12.54.
As for the DCFs, they only apply to developed properties and will be fixed in the sense that the City will set them. The owners of lots that are larger than 930 square metres will pay $6,205, Those with lots between 300 square metres and 930 will pay $5,475. Those who own lots of less than 400 square metres will pay $4,745.
All of this was compounded by pressures being exerted by Ottawa and Victoria. The Clearview Heights Sewer Project was tapped to receive federal Economic Stimulus Program funding, amounting almost $420,000. That’s about on-third of the total project cost. The province will pay one third and the City will cover the rest. But there’s a deadline. The project has to be completed by March of 2011.
The more wrangling, debating, negotiating and posturing that went on the less likely it is that the project would be completed on time and the grants would be forfeit. Both sides recognize that and by the time the meeting was over it was obvious that the mutual misunderstanding had been cleared up and that everyone understood what was at stake.
“Whatever kind of pipe is put into the ground we just want it done right and on budget,” Dennis said. “I believe the LSA would not want to jeopardize this project by delaying.”
His fellow spokesperson, Karen Matthews agreed saying, “We do have a lot of confidence in City staff. We had heard that the City was going to contract out the project management. What we want is for City staff to oversee it.”
She spoke, too, about the angst experienced by homeowners on the hill.
“We’re not just here complaining,”Matthews said. “The largest impact this will have on homeowners will be financial. It’s a lot of money.”