Debt-ridden Benton, N.L., aims to cut water, sewage to people owing fees

If you haven't paid your service fees in Benton, get ready to lose your water and sewer.

Service area is crippled by debts, with no money in its bank account

Benton is a small local service district just east of Gander. (Martin Jones/CBC)

If you haven't paid your fees in Benton, get ready to lose your water and sewer.

The community made a public post on Facebook on Tuesday seeking a contractor to axe services to about 10 houses belonging to residents owing service fees.

Lew Howell, chair of the local service district for Benton, says it's a last-ditch effort to save the community from devastation.

"We have no other choice," he said. "This town is pretty much bankrupt. We owe money to different companies and they're calling for their money daily."

Howell said the community is down to one pump for water and sewer. A second pump is sitting at a repair shop in St. John's, held up because Benton owes the company money.

History of debt

"I really don't know how it got to this point," said Howell, who has lived in Benton for three years.

The local service district considered merging with Gander, which is 20 kilometres west, in 2012 when it was swimming in debt. Ultimately, the residents stuck it out on their own.

A series of water and sewer issues drained the community's bank account in 2014, Howell said. Every time they got money in, it would have to go back out to pay for the continuous upkeep of the services the community provides.

There's barely enough houses in this community to have services anyway.- Lew Howell

"Right now it's not there. There's no more money there. So we have to take this drastic action and try to recover some of the arrears that's out there."

Howell said Benton has a fee base of about 80 households — with one-eighth of those in arrears.

"There's barely enough houses in this community to have services anyway. And in this small town, believe it or not, we have the same services here that you do in the city."

Make us an offer, Howell says

Howell said the local services board is now committed to maintaining those services in any way they possibly can. He hopes the people who have their services cut will come to the town office and set up a payment plan.

And if they can't pay the full amount?

"At least make an offer," he said.

As he sat through a power outage on Wednesday night from the high winds and rain, Howell had a glimpse of the worst-case scenario for the entire community of Benton if they can't turn things around.

"We had no power, we had no water, no sewer. And this is exactly what we could have down the road from this. If we don't pay our bills, well, everybody is going to cut us off."

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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