Sections

Town of Yarmouth strikes compromise aimed at providing some financial relief to homeowners

By-law amendments deal with costs associated with repairs to sewer connection laterals


Published on July 14, 2017

Yarmouth town hall. The town has approved its budget for 2017-18.

©Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH, N.S. – The town of Yarmouth has struck a compromise that sees no change in sewer lateral ownership, but would lessen the financial hardship some homeowners may find themselves in should repairs and replacement be needed. 

The change comes about after a homeowner and other residents made presentations to council saying the existing by-law placed an unfair financial burden on homeowners.

Yarmouth resident Rodney Crowe was facing a bill of around $8,000 to fix sewer infrastructure. What bothered him was as a resident and taxpayer he was also responsible for the repairs on town property, both below and above ground.

In presenting a petition with 1,500 signatures last month, he argued it should be a shared responsibility with the property owner paying for what is on their property and the town paying for what it on theirs. He felt residents shouldn’t have to bear the cost of digging up streets and sidewalks.

Town staff examined the issue and prepared a report that was presented at a June 29 committee of the whole meeting. A motion was made at that meeting to accept the report’s recommendations. That motion was approved at council’s July 13 meeting, with first reading of by-law amendments also taking place.

While sewer lateral ownership will not change, one recommendation states that council should consider assuming responsibility for replacing asphalt and concrete of town-owned infrastructure following the replacement or repair of sewer laterals by a homeowner.

Another recommendation eliminates the deposit system. Through the town’s by-law a  $1,000 deposit has been required to ensure work is properly done. If work was substandard and had to be corrected by the town the deposit would be forfeited. If there is no deficiency, the deposit is returned after one complete frost cycle.

Rather than an up-front deposit, council has agreed to amend the by‐law to allow the town to place a lien on the property to cover the cost of correcting any substandard work, with the first option for making repairs still falling to the homeowner. Asked at council’s July 13 meeting how often substandard work needs to be repaired, councillors were told it’s never been an issue.

Councillor Wade Cleveland sees the direction being taken by the town as reaching a good middle ground. At the recent committee of the whole meeting he said the way have been seemed “a bit draconian” to him.

“To me, this compromise is the perfect way to do it,” he said, noting homeowners still retain ownership and responsibility of their laterals, but the town can also provide some financial relief.

Others around the council table agreed.

The by-law that has been in place is not specific to the town of Yarmouth. The town says the language was adopted directly from the Nova Scotia Model By‐Law Manual for municipalities, produced by the Nova Scotia Department of Municipal Affairs.

“Though the by‐law has been characterized as unfair, it is the standard,” the council report read.

But the report also recognized that it can create large financial burdens to residents as repairs such as this can be unexpected and not budgeted for.

As for what implications the changes may have on the town’s financial picture, it all depends on how many times a year this happens. If it’s a case of one or two times it won’t have any significant impact. If the occurrences happen 10 or more times it would impact the town’s budget, which council would have to find ways to address.