January 24, 2018 8:47 am

Fort Saskatchewan responds to resident water bill woes

WATCH ABOVE: For years, Fort Saskatchewan residents have been trying to get to the bottom of sky high bills for water they know they aren't using. As Sarah Kraus explains, some relief could finally be on the way.

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Over the last few years, Fort Saskatchewan residents have been speaking out against abnormally high water bills and now the Edmonton-area city is preparing to make changes.

Tanya Gallant is the administrator of a Facebook group called Fort Sask Water Wars. She started the group after receiving a shocking water bill back in 2015.

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Her bill jumped from $200 to $2,000 in a single billing cycle. She said the City of Fort Saskatchewan told her there must be a water leak in her home.

“We went through plumbers and had everything checked and it came back that nothing was wrong. The next billing cycle we ended up going back to normal. Obviously we felt that something was wrong,” Gallant explained.

READ MORE: Alberta single mom handed $2,700 water bill: ‘It’s impossible’

She ended up paying the bill, but was frustrated when the city told her it had noticed the irregularity earlier.

“We were red flagged as to using a very, very high amount from our residence — but we weren’t notified,” she said.

On Tuesday, Gallant organized a rally at city hall for residents concerned about the water billing. About a dozen people turned out, a number she was disappointed with — given how many people have expressed frustration online.

One of the group’s members that did come was mother Adrianne Kirtz. She hasn’t personally had a large bill, but she wanted to support those who have.

“I have seven people in my house,” she said.

“My bill is roughly $202 for two months. So when I look at everyone else having $500, $600, $3,000 bills, there’s reasons to question it.”

The residents met with city manager Troy Fleming, who felt it was important to sit down with them.

“It’s about communication, meeting with the residents and making sure that they know that they’ve been heard and that we are working on this issue,” he said.

Fleming said a few years ago, the city had an independent audit of the water billing system, which did not reveal any major issues that would cause such large bill fluxuations.

WATCH: Some residents of Fort Saskatchewan may finally get some answers about why their water bills are unusually high. As Julia Wong reports, the city has hired an auditor. (Story originally aired January 27, 2016)

Fort Saskatchewan also contacted other Edmonton metro region municipalities to compare its services.

“What we found is we don’t have a higher number of anomaly or high water bills than other water services providers do,” Fleming said.

“The city of Fort Saskatchewan does have a very high variable water rate, so for somebody who gets a leak in their house in the City of Fort Saskatchewan, it may cost you more than it would in another municipality. It doesn’t mean there’s a flaw in the system, it’s just the way our bills are structured.”

READ MORE: Fort Saskatchewan residents baffled by huge water bills

However, it still does not want residents to feel burdened by a critical utility.

“We’ve made our payment structures more lenient,” Fleming said. “We’ve looked at the technology to get automatic meter reading done, we’re looking at policies as they relate to forgiving portions of bills related to leaks.”

Starting this month, bills are also being sent out more often.

“The biggest thing is we’ve switched to monthly billing to give our customers more immediate feedback on their water consumption,” he said.

It’s a move Gallant appreciates, “but it still does not uncover the reason why.”

To that end, Fort Saskatchewan is planning to invest in a new meter technology over the next two years, at a cost of $2 to $3-million dollars.

“We want to get to the point where we can do hourly or almost on time meter reads. What that does is it lets you set up alerts and stuff so that customers — if there is some kind of leak, some kind of anomaly in their consumption that’s being read — they would get an alert and they could solve the problem.”

Kirtz wants the change made as quickly as possible, before she receives an unexpected bill herself.

“We need answers, because if I get a $3,000 bill, I don’t know what I would do. I’d have to put my seven-year-old to work,” she laughed.

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