By Barb McKay
Kincardine council had decided that it won’t step in and make any demands of Westario related to billing policies and hydro disconnections.
The topic of hydro billing practices reared its head again during last Wednesday’s council meeting.
Kincardine’s representative on the Westario board of directors, Randy Hughes, was in the gallery but did not face the barrage of questions put to him during a meeting last month.
Some councillors voiced concerns about disconnections during winter months and additional charges that are applied to final notices and reconnections. Councillor Jacqueline Faubert asked if the charge of $16.95 that is applied to hand delivered disconnection notices could be reduced.
“That would be one area in which you could mediate some of the frustration,” she said.
Faubert said it doesn’t make sense to charge additional fees to reconnect customers after hours when people are already struggling to come up with the money to pay their bills.
“Some practices could be changed to humanize this,” she said.
Councillor Candy Hewitt said she spoke to a resident who had made a partial payment on their hydro bill and still received a disconnection notice.
“Having witnessed the anxiety and frustration of receiving a heavy handed and strongly-worded notice, there has to be a better way of doing things,” she said.
As well, she said, notices are delivered during daytime hours when people are out working so that they can pay their bills.
Deputy mayor Anne Eadie said that while social issues should be handled by the county, Kincardine is a part owner of Westario and should encourage the company to stop disconnections between December and April.
Councillor Ken Craig noted that energy is not limited to hydro and that it is up to the utility company to set its policies. He said it’s not the municipality’s place to ask Westario to change its policies. At the end of the day, Craig said, people are responsible for the costs that they incur. Kincardine is fortunate to have organizations (like the
Mayor Larry Kraemer agreed and added that if the municipality implemented a vital services bylaw it would face financial risks because it would be responsible for unpaid hydro bills.
“I don’t think we want to open a can of worms where we are held to doing what we are asking (Westario) to do,” he said.
Council voted to ask Bruce County Housing to continue its efforts to develop programs that will assist residents with utility costs and to lobby the province to address the impact of high utility rates.