Some St. Andrews residents are raising a stink about a hefty tab to connect to Winnipeg's waste water service.
But some leaders in the rural municipality argue the project is needed to protect environmentally sensitive waterways.
Keri-Linn Naumik learned in late February that she and her husband must pay $7,264 to cover their share of the "public infrastructure" for the project by Wednesday or have $504 added to their annual tax bill for 20 years instead.
"It just seems like the RM is jamming this down our throats and we have to do this. I really don’t object (to the actual change) but I object to the financial end," she said.
Naumik would prefer the RM cancel or postpone the project for a few years, especially after the pandemic led her family’s income to fall $30,000 last year due to a layoff and lost pay.
In addition to the initial fee, the RM’s website notes affected South St. Andrews residents will also be billed $2,680 to connect to the City of Winnipeg system and an average of $6,300 for installation work on their own properties, bringing the startup costs to about $16,000.
Naumik said she has been aware of the project for years but didn't know the exact price.
Another resident said homeowners question the value they’ll receive for that tab, especially since the system will handle only household waste water, so each home will still require sewage tanks to handle solid waste.
"They could delay it and have a little bit more research on the benefits of what was done," said Adam, who did not want his last name published.
Many residents are considering a joint legal challenge against the project, he said, adding some homeowners expect setting up the service will cost them more than $20,000.
"I know two homeowners who are on the fence about having to sell (their homes) or not because they don’t have the money to do that at this time," he said.
Once completed, the system will move the homes’ waste water through a sewer line to Winnipeg’s North End sewage treatment plant. That change will make septic fields less likely to overflow into the Red River, reducing the risk of sewage and other contamination winding up in Lake Winnipeg, according to the RM.
"We don’t want to be the… cause of the pollution in the lake. I’ve got my grandchildren living in this community and I want them to enjoy the lake at some point, too," said St. Andrews Coun. John Preun.
The plan has been discussed with homeowners for years but exact costs weren’t available until February, Preun said. The option to pay the first $7,264 bill by April 28 or through annual payments of $504 should help residents budget for it, while connecting to the new system should also reduce the number of times homeowners must pay to pump out sewage holding tanks, he said.
Residents can also spread the costs out, said DJ Sigmundson, St. Andrews chief administrative officer. Provincial legislation requires them to hook up to the municipal system but they actually have five years to do it, he said.
The decision to add the service is not unusual for a municipality, nor are the fees, he said.
"A municipal system is cheaper and easier to monitor from a public-safety standpoint than having another 1,800 septic fields get put in that area over the next couple decades," he said, referring to the expectation that the service will eventually reach 1,800 homes.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.