Alberton mayor agrees to pay outstanding sewer utility bill

Alberton mayor David Gordon has agreed to pay what he owes in sewer utilities following mediation between himself and the Town of Alberton. Mr Gordon owed over $40,000, most of which was from compound interest fees. Mr Gordon will pay $3035, which is the overdue on the account, plus an account overdue penalty $5,000, which can be made in five instalments of $1,000. In his report, the mediator questioned why the matter took almost 20 years to resolve itself, and noted that neither party was entirely blameless in the matter. Jillian Trainor photo

The matter concerning Alberton mayor David Gordon and an unpaid sewer bill of over $40,000 has been resolved.

After a  mediation session on Sept. 12 between Mr Gordon and the Town of Alberton, where an agreement was reached that Mr Gordon will pay the overdue account, which constitutes $3,035. Payment is to be made no later than Oct. 12.

In June, Mr Gordon signed an amended disclosure stating he owed the town $42,298 in sewer utilities. He argued that because his home was built before the sewer line was installed he shouldn’t have to pay the bill.

“I was never hooked up to it, and it was never by my house when I built the house, but at the end of the day, if it’s running by your property you have to pay for it,” he said following a special council meeting on Oct. 3.

While the matter was initially disclosed at the end of June, the decision was made by Councillor and deputy mayor Blair Duggan and Councillor Kelly Williams in early July to wait until there was a full complement of councillors before voting on whether or not to involve a mediator. At the time, the two were the only councillors remaining on town council following the resignation of the other four councillors, along with the town’s CAO over the course of one month.

The town owns, operates, and administers the Alberton Sewage Collection and Treatment Corporation, known in the report as the Utility, which is governed by the Water and Sewer Act of PEI. The Act is administered by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC), which establishes sewer rates for the town.

The mediator report states the two per cent per month compound interest rate on outstanding accounts is set out in the regulations to the Act, and while this is a significant deterrent in preventing delinquent accounts, there’s an even more powerful one in the Municipal Government Act (MGA). The MGA provides that an unpaid sewer bill constitutes a lien on that resident’s property until payment is made. In addition, it states the Utility’s lien “has priority over every claim, privilege, or encumbrance against the property of every person except the Crown, and may be enforced on application to the Supreme Court for an order for the sale of the property”.

The mediator in this situation was Frank Gillan, who mediated the Three Rivers dispute.

“I think mediation went very good,” said Coun. Duggan. “He commented on how everyone was there to find a resolution to the problem.”

Along with the $3,035, Mr Gordon will pay to the utility an account overdue penalty of $5,000. The penalty will be interest free, and will be paid in five equal installments of $1,000. The deadline for these payments are Sept. 30, 2019, Jan. 31, 2020, March 31, 2020, June 30, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2020. The Utility has also rescinded any and all interest rate charges billed to Mr Gordon prior to Sept. 12, 2019.

While the issue has been resolved, in his report Mr Gillan questions how the Mr Gordon’s account came to be 18 years in arrears. He said unfortunately it took a perfect storm of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and missed opportunity, with neither party being entirely blameless. In the report, it states the town and Mr Gordon have shared culpability for the matter not being addressed in a more timely manner.

Several recommendations of procedure were made at the end of the mediator’s report. These include that council consider more clearly explaining the compounding effect on overdue accounts, noting the clearer the penalty information, the likelihood of an account becoming overdue would decrease; residents with an overdue account should be notified that a lien automatically exists on their account, and of the consequences of that lien; that IRAC regulations empower the town to disconnect sewer services where warranted and with notice to the resident.

“I think it’s a fair settlement by myself and the Town of Alberton,” said Mr Gordon. “I just want this behind us, I don’t want to put any more stress on my council. I want these people to come in and start enjoying council meetings.”

Mr Gordon was not granted any special deal based on his mayoral position. The terms of the settlement are based solely on the facts of what Mr Gillan has called ‘a unique and unfortunate case’.

A motion was made by Councillor Chester Adams to accept the mediator’s report, which was seconded by Councillor Allan Curtis.

“I think we all decided going forward that there were a lot of oversights made by the town, and at the end of the day, we don’t want anybody to ever have this problem again,” said Coun. Duggan. “We want to set a policy up so we’re doing things earlier, putting leans on properties and informing residents of the consequences of not paying.”

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