Winnipeg city council has voted 13- 2 in favour of declaring the frozen water pipe crisis a disaster, a move that will allow it to apply for disaster financial assistance from the federal and provincial governments. 

The two councillors who voted against the motion, Scott Fielding and Justin Swandel, said the move is premature.

But 13 councillors disagreed, including Mayor Sam Katz.

Katz said it's still too early to know exactly how much frozen pipes will cost the city but he guessed it will run upwards of $3 to $5 million and the city should get its request in the pipeline now. 

"We should go forward and ask for this and wait for a response," he said. "We don't gain anything by waiting. We lose nothing by going forward right now."

Katz bristled at the term 'disaster.'

"I think there's a misconception," he said. "You don't need a disaster. You need a unique set of circumstances, which is exactly what we have:"

Province will consider application

The province says it will consider Winnipeg's request. The request would have to meet the criteria outlined under federal Disaster Financial Assistance regulations set out by Public Safety Canada.

A spokesperson for Premier Greg Selinger said, "There is no question it has been a very difficult winter for many families and businesses dealing with frozen pipes."

City to cover the $305

Councillors earlier Wednesday voted to reimburse residents the city's $305 fee to thaw pipes.

It's retroactive to Dec. 1,  up to a maximum of $305, the fee the city charges for the service. 

The city also said property owners who hired private contractors to do the work will be reimbursed to a maximum of $305. They will have to send in a claim with the invoice for the work, the city said. 

Coun. Paula Havixbeck said it will appear as a credit on water bills and said she was pleased the date was changed to Dec. 1, from Jan. 1. 

Mayor Sam Katz said the reimbursement, dating back further, is a positive step.

"The key thing to do what's fair and what's right, treat people like you want them to treat you. And most importantly create an even playing field and that's how Dec. 1 came up," he said. 

Council is also considering a motion from both Havixbeck and Coun. Harvey Smith that residents without water due to frozen pipes should be offered the option of staying in a hotel until a temporary water supply to their homes can be set up, or their pipes thawed.

Weary residents welcome rebate

City council's decision to credit customers who paid the city to have their pipes thawed is good news to some people who have been struggling with frozen pipes. 

Ron Dorman said he and his wife have been without water at his home on West Gate on and off since the end of January, when his pipes froze. 

Dorman said he's paid more than $600 to have the lines thawed - twice. He said his house has taken a beating over the last few weeks, given the lack of running water.

"My house is disgusting," he said. "I can't see any other word for it."

When crews showed up in mid-February to thaw the pipes, they told him he wouldn't be billed the $305 the city charges for the service.

Then he got the bill. 

Dorman said it's great that the city has changed its mind, but it's too little, too late, and he wonders why it wasn't done much earlier when it was obvious frozen pipes were a much bigger problem than the city was able to handle.  

"This whole ordeal has shown me how ill-prepared the City of Winnipeg is to deal with emergencies like this," he said. 

City's waiting list for frozen pipes grows again

The city also said another 936 properties are at an increased risk of having their pipes freeze. City officials are in the process of contacting the property owners.

It brings the total number of properties where residents and owners are told to let the water trickle from one tap to 7,248.

The number of properties on the city's waiting list to have pipes thawed is now 1,358. That's back up after dropping to 1,349 Tuesday.