A resident dispute over a water and sewer line project in Ponoka that has dragged on for more than five years could be nearing an end, says a man who has fought on behalf of homeowners.
Nick Kohlman has tirelessly pursued the town for years to refund some of the cost of the $448,000 project completed in 2008. The work was done as a local improvement project, which meant 19 property owners on the street were responsible for almost all of the cost.
Kohlman, who lives in Ponoka County but has represented several 38th Street residents, has long argued that too much was charged to property owners, whom, he says, have been denied a full cost breakdown of the work done. Some of the billed work was never actually done and other work was wrongly billed to property owners, he claims.
The saga has wound its way through appeal boards, the Municipal Government Board and spawned numerous Freedom of Information and Protect of Privacy Act (FOIP) requests.
Last July, an administration-recommended proposal to pay $72,191 to residents was rejected by council.
Last week, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered the town to refund $289.60 charged to Kohlman for photocopying and document preparation time as part of a $588 bill for a FOIP request.
Kohlman’s application to have all fees waived under the grounds the request was a matter of public interest was rejected. The commissioner’s office also found no evidence that the town didn’t respond properly to information requests.
Last December, the 38th Street issue resurfaced again in front of council — which includes five new members. Council decided it wants to review all of the background before making a decision later this year.
Mayor Rick Bonnett and Coun. Loanna Gulka excused themselves from the debate because they live on 38th Street.
Town acting chief administrative officer Betty Quinlan said the photocopying had been charged at the 25-cent-per-page rate under the FOIP Act, but the commissioner wanted a detailed breakdown on costs, such as electricity and paper usage and maintenance bills for photocopiers. That will be considered when future FOIP applications are made.
Kohlman doesn’t agree with the public interest ruling, arguing there were “clear issues of mismanagement involved” in the handling of the project, which started out as a $195,000 project.
“I disagree with that but we’re satisfied the new council is going to look at this entire mess and they’re going to deal with it.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kohlman said the FOIP process was valuable even though it came at some cost.
“Without FOIP we would not have uncovered what we have uncovered,” he said. For instance, seven gas line crossings that had been charged for were found not to exist, leading to a $4,000 overcharge to residents.
Quinlan said the town has been trying to work with property owners to resolve the issue.
“This has been an ongoing issue for the last five or six years. We do have a new council. We have to bring them up to speed on this local improvement.”
Hopefully, residents will be satisfied with council’s decision when it’s made, she said.