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Minister takes ‘tough love’ stance with water arrears residents

Residents at the 28-unit Dockyard condominium development at Kitchener Close are entering a fifth week without steady water supplies due to arrears.

The water cut was ordered by Public Works Minister Trevor Moniz following the discovery that funds were owed for water to the tune of $70,000 to $80,000. When linked with outstanding tipping fees left unpaid at various dumps the total tab in arrears runs in the region $5 million to $7 million.

On the multimillion dollar total Mr Moniz said: “I have instructed that we use our best efforts to collect in all arrears. We have had a good success rate so far.”

But the tenants with bills that are up-to-date believe they are being penalised and deprived of a basic necessity because of delinquent tenants with bills dating back close to 20 years when the property was run by the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC).

One tenant said: “It is causing hardship over a monthly maintenance bill which is $350. That includes water, grass cutting, repairs and maintenance and now I have to dip in further to chip to buy water whenever the tank goes dry. She questioned why the innocent should have to suffer for the guilty who failed to pay their bills.

The Minister conceded that the development has some history of arrears with the BHC, only one large tank supplies the entire apartment block. Each unit has a water meter attached but they were never activated for billing.

As a result he said: “There were people who had built up large arrears and I’ve given an instruction to go out and to collect these arrears as a matter of urgency. Bermuda cannot afford for these arrears to build up and people can’t expect the rest of the taxpayers to pay off their bills for them.”

Ten units were up-to-date on maintenance bills while 18 were not. “With the meters turned off people were not paying their fair share with some not paying at all,” said Mr Moniz.

“I have informed the unit managers that they make those water meters operational and start billing people then come back to me with a plan on how the arrears will be paid. Then they will have my ear.

“In normal situations when you don’t pay your water bill the water gets turned off and that happens anywhere in any development, checking the tanks is their job not ours.

The issue was raised during the motion to adjourn by Opposition Leader Marc Bean, who accused the Minister of being callous.

Asked to respond Mr Moniz replied: “I can be tough but I believe in tough love and that’s the only way it is going to work going into the future.”

Mr Bean demanded that the Minister turn the water back on and “show some humanity” after he met with tenants to discuss the situation.

“Where is the social conscience of the One Bermuda Alliance Government? You mean to tell me the Minister of Public Works is going to explain that the water is turned off for taxpayers and residents of this country because of arrears? Something couldn’t have been worked out so you don’t have to deprive people of the most fundamental element they need to live — water? A basic necessity over an arrear, where is the social conscience?

PLP MP Zane DeSilva interjected: “The Opposition Leader must be misleading the public, I can’t believe that the Minister of Works would be so callous to the people of this country.

Mr Moniz countered: “The member doesn’t know what he is speaking about but clearly but he’s characterising me as callous without understanding the situation. The arrears has built up to $70 or $80,000 under that Government the arrears weren’t paid. They’re called free riders, I said if you turn the water meters on and get organised I will turn your water back on. And that’s what I’m waiting for because those people are riding on the other people’s shoulders and it has to stop.”

Mr Bean continued: “I’ve also been told that the residents went to the Minister to arrange a payment plan and that was rejected, they claim the Minister said he wants $40,000 up front right now if they want water’.”

But Mr Moniz denied the accusation. “No, I at no point in time ever said that to them. I said to them you get the meters turned on and the locks put on so that everybody pays for their water, then you come back to me and we will discuss an arrangement. But we can’t have an arrangement where ten people are paying and 18 people are not; it won’t work.”

Mr Bean chastised the Minister and demanded the water be turned back on.

“Don’t let me ask, let me demand, turn the water back on and show some humanity,” he said. “Some residents who are up there on dialysis, can you imagine the Honourable Minister turning off the water out Fairylands, that will never happen.”

Minister of Public Works Trevor Moniz has instructed that best efforts are made to collect arrears due to the Government, totalling somewhere in the region of $5 to $7 million. Included in that sum are water bill arrears of between $70,000 to $80,000 owed by Dockyard residents.

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Published May 21, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 21, 2013 at 12:10 am)

Minister takes ‘tough love’ stance with water arrears residents

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