Nova Scotia

Halifax charges $42 stormwater fee to previously exempt properties

Some Halifax property owners got a surprise recently when they opened their tax bills and found a $42 yearly stormwater right-of-way fee.

'We have in writing from [Halifax Water] that we would be exempt from all future charges'

Cathy Thibodeau looks over her tax bill, which includes fees she had previously been exempted from paying. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Some Halifax property owners got a surprise recently when they opened their tax bills and found a $42 yearly stormwater right-of-way fee.

Previously, the right-of-way fee for water that flows from streets into the stormwater system, and a site-generated flow fee for water that flows off properties into ditches, were part of Halifax Water bills.

Cathy and Leo Thibodeau live in Wellington outside Halifax, down a lane and nowhere near a ditch.

"Our argument is that our property doesn't start until 200 feet in. There's a 300-foot right-of-way. Our property does not touch the street. We are bordered on all sides by other houses and there's no way that water from our property would flow to the street and vice versa," Cathy Thibodeau said.

They appealed the flow fee when it was administered by Halifax Water and it was removed from their water bill.

'Exempt from all future charges'

When the charge appeared again last year, they pointed out their exemption, and received an email from Halifax Water's manager of metering and billing confirming "that you have been exempted from stormwater charges," adding "you are also exempted from [the] HRM right-of-way charge."

But this year Halifax, not Halifax Water, is collecting the fees and they have been put on the Thibodeaus's tax bill. 

"We have in writing from [Halifax Water] that we would be exempt from all future charges." Thibodeau said. "This is the future and we're still getting a bill and it's frustrating to have to continue to appeal or make an inquiry and ask why."

Jerry Blackwood, manager of revenue for Halifax's finance department, told CBC News the change was made by Halifax council.

Condo owners must pay, too

"When HRM took this charge back in house and we did through a tax bill, the change in the tax policy around this was from an equity standpoint," he said.

He added that everyone benefits from streets and roads, and the maintenance of those roads, so council directed staff to propose a uniform rate on every taxable property.

That means the 1,500 people who were exempted by Halifax Water, like the Thibodeaus, now are being billed for the fee.

So are 11,000 condo owners, whose corporations were previously charged.

Blackwood said the charge is revenue neutral because all money collected is used to maintain the system.

He said because the fee is being charged as a tax, there is no ability to appeal and everyone is expected to pay it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca

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