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Mission man angered after receiving $6,000 water bill from city

City says they’ve been trying to get homeowner to fix leak since May, will adjust bill once fixed
Ryan Bathgate standing over the water meter in his front yard. He received the largest water bill of any single-family residence in all of Mission. Patrick Penner / Mission Record

A Mission man is angry after a $6,000 water bill from the city left him thinking he would have to sell his home to pay it. It’s the largest water bill for a single-family home in all of Mission.

“I just don’t understand how that can happen,” said Ryan Bathgate, who bought the 1970s-era home in 2018. He lives with his wife, mother, two kids, and a large mortgage. “The bottom line is, I don’t want a water meter, I never did.”

Bathgate will not end up having to pay the bill, but will have to pay to repair the leak causing the massive run up, confirm it’s repaired with the public works department before they will adjust the bill to the previous amount, according to the city.

He claims the city had not been clearly communicating these details with him, and has been told the leak has been fixed on two occasions. The city claims that’s not the case.

Both the cities of Abbotsford and Mission have managed to cut their water consumption rates drastically since learning they were in danger of draining their water supply nearly a decade ago.

Mission still uses significantly more, and has been trying to get more residents on the meter system. All developments since 2009 require a water meter installed, and approximately 17 per cent of all residential properties are now on a meter instead of paying the flat-rate charge, according to data provided by the city.

Bathgate’s home on May Street is one of 500 older homes that were put on meter as part of a pilot program in 2015.

Public works staff visited Bathgate’s home and checked his water meter in late May, and informed him there was a leak.

Bathgate claims he was told it was fixed after he tightened a backyard water faucet, but that city staff came back in November and again told him there was a leak. He said he was again told it was fixed.

“I was like, ‘Man, we’ve been through this … If you’re telling me the same thing, then you need to look at your equipment,’” he said.

Bathgate said he then received the massive bill.

Since then, he said the water meter has been removed, tested for accuracy, and reinstalled. Most recently, the public works department sent him a letter stating that if its not fixed by Jan. 11, his water will be shut off.

By the city’s account, Bathgate was informed of two leaks during the May visit, was informed of the bill adjustment policy, and was told to call them once the leak was fixed, but they never received a call. They said the bill adjustments were explained to him again by the finance staff after he received the bill, but he claimed there was no leak.

Public works staff then went back, tested the meter in a lab at Bathgate’s request, informed him of its accuracy before sending the letter warning of shutting off his water on Dec. 6.

Bathgate said he wants off the water-meter system because none of his neighbours have ever received a bill in the thousands of dollars.

But the data shows that residents on water meters generally pay less than those being charged the flat rate, said Tracy Kyle, director of engineering and public works.

She provided statistics showing the average annual bill for a water meter is $660, rather than the flat rate charge of $977 for single-family dwellings ($1953 for those with secondary suites). Out of 1,756 residential metered utility accounts, 82 per cent were under $1,000, 17 per cent were over $1,000 (many with secondary suites) and only 0.02 per cent were billed over $2,000.

Bathgate’s bill was just over $500 in 2020, and because the property has a secondary suite, the meter actually saves him a significant amount annually, Kyle said.

She said that lower water users are having to subsidize higher water users in the flat-rate system, there are no financial incentives to conserve water, and the city has an obligation to use their supply efficiently.

On top of that, the meters help identify leaks.

In fact, the 2015 pilot program for those 500 homes has shown that the average home used one cubic meter of water per day, while the top 14 users were using 109 cubic meters.

Mission water bylaw requires leaks to be repaired in a timely manner, and all owners are responsible for repairing leaks on their own property. It’s not possible to get off the water meter once it’s installed.

Kyle said meter bills will be sent quarterly instead of annually in 2022.