Back-dating of water bills

The Dunedin City Council has moved a step closer to resolving hundreds of illegal or informal water connections across Dunedin, but some homeowners could face back-dated bills for up to three years' supply.

The council's water bylaw hearings subcommittee this week heard submissions on the draft bylaw, which will replace the older Water Bylaw 2008 next month.

Changes would formalise existing informal and illegal connections, as well as establishing new rules to respond to further breaches of the bylaw.

Among the changes the councillors agreed on was to increase the maximum period back-dated bills could cover from one year to three years.

That followed comments by Dunedin Ratepayers and Householders Association chairman Lyndon Weggery at this week's hearing.

He argued it would be unfair to present some property owners with "informal" connections - some of them dating back more than a decade - with bills for only their last 12 months' water supply.

"It's sending the wrong signal to the community," he argued.

Subcommittee member Cr Lee Vandervis responded by suggesting the limit on back-dated bills be increased from one year to a maximum of three years, with staff to decide after assessing each case individually.

The move comes after Mayor Dave Cull - before being elected mayor - outed himself last year as a homeowner with an "illegal" water connection.

He inherited the connection after buying his Otago Peninsula home 15 years ago and had not paid for water since, despite topping up water tanks on his property "from time to time".

Mr Cull notified council staff of the problem in 2008, but was told - like hundreds of other homeowners in the same position - it could only be resolved when the bylaw was updated.

Council staff had since calculated 232 properties had illegal or informal connections, either receiving water without paying - inside or outside water supply zones - or receiving and paying for water while outside supply zones, a report by council business support leader Narelle Barbour said.

Of the property owners, 39 had already been sent back-dated bills for 12 months' supply, resulting in payments from 22 property owners, she said.

Payments from another eight were waived for "genuine reasons".

Staff would assess each of the remaining connections once the bylaw was in place, her report said.

The bylaw prompted 10 submissions, with three people choosing to speak at yesterday's hearing.

The subcommittee voted to approve the new bylaw, subject to final approval at the next council meeting on March 28.

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