HALIFAX – It came as a major shock when the executive committee of St. James Anglican Church in Bridgetown, N.S., got its most recent water and sewer bill from the Municipality of Annapolis. The three-month bill came to staggering $5,485.31.
The church was closed due to COVID-19 from Dec. 21 until early February, according to David Skidmore, the chair of the church’s property committee. During that time, a pipe froze and broke, leaking water into the basement. The good news is the sump pump in the church basement kept the water from rising and the two furnaces in the 135-year-old church were not damaged. But the constant flow of water was not detected right away and, according to the meter readings taken by the municipality, the building went through a lot of water. Now the church’s small congregation is trying to have the bill dismissed or at the very least reduced.
“When we discovered the problem, we had a plumber come in and fix it right away,” said churchwarden Mark Rutherford. “It was about two weeks after that when we got the bill, and it was $3,000 for water and $2,400 for sewer, for a $5,400 bill. And we’re, like, where are we going to come up with that?”
The Municipality of Annapolis told the church there isn’t much it can do about the bill other than to offer the option to make monthly payments, at 18 per cent interest. The municipality advised the church executive to go to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
Mr. Rutherford wrote a complaint letter to the review board.
“For a church where we have approximately 20 people who attend regularly and they certainly aren’t wealthy, we would like to have some relief for the bill,” said Mr. Skidmore.
If they have to pay a bill of that magnitude, it could have dire consequences for the church. “This could force the closure of the church because that’s almost $300 a person that attends our church,” said Mr. Rutherford. “Most of us here are retired and we are stuck on standard pensions.”
The utility and review board directed the municipality to file a response to the church’s complaint on or before May 6. The board would then review the information and provide a decision.
The church does have insurance, but with no major damage done to the structure the policy can’t help with the bill issue.