Broken boiler valve leads church to seek water bill relief from Town of Napanee

St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church in Napanee. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

A local church has approached the Town of Napanee for aid with unexpectedly large water bills they received recently when their boiler broke, allowing water to run freely into the sewer all summer.

A delegation from St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church in Napanee made the deputation to Council at its Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 meeting to request “relief on the water bill overages in the time of repair… [for] the difference between the average bill and the amount in recent months due to repairs, which is approximately $3,800 over the 6-month period.”

Prior to the deputation, Councillors Bob Norrie and Angela Hicks both disclosed pecuniary interest in the matter, each saying they were a parishioner of the church and had donated financially to it for many years. Both councillors excused themselves from the discussion and left the room.

Chris Yeomans, the churchwarden, wrote a letter to support the request for leniency on the recent water invoice received by the church. Yeomans appeared before Council along with parishioner Bill Russell.

Russell described the problem, saying, “Back in very late June, we had a problem with the boiler in the church… Until August the 30, we had water flowing through the boiler system into what they call a condensate tank.”

This occurred because a valve had stuck, causing a free flow of water for around two months, Russell explained, estimating that the boiler is “between 55 and 60 years old. It was put in by Napanee boilers and… they were world-known and shipped all over… so it is a good boiler.”

Russell said that a local company does maintenance on the boiler “twice a month when the boiler is in operation, to make sure the chemicals are added and it’s working properly,” but with warmer weather, the boiler is shut down. Between the end of May and late September, the boiler was shut down, so the issue with the valve wasn’t noticed until it was time to restart the boiler in September.

“The problem we have, and I suspect most churches have in the area, is a money problem. We’re down in attendance, we’re down in financial intake, and unfortunately, our expenses keep going up and up all the time. So what we’re looking for is some relief from the billing,” he stated.

Yeomans said that Nathan Murphy, the Town’s acting treasurer, “did a great job helping with this deputation and has figured… what our average use of water would be in comparison to… the actual water that was going to the system.” Yeomans referred to his letter of support, saying, “as Bill indicated, we aren’t flush with cash, but… we try to be good citizens of Napanee, and the money that we do have tries to go to help. I’ve outlined several programs that St. Mary Magdalene has initiated, and we want to continue those programs. We want to be good citizens of Napanee, and an unanticipated expense like this does put a hardship on us, and we hope to have some consideration.” 

Yeoman’s letter states that “the Church of St. Mary Magdalene has been and continues to be a vital part of the Greater Napanee community for over 200 years. Our parishioners can be found throughout the town working and volunteering to make Napanee a greater place to live… Within the last 25 years, The Church of St. Mary Magdalene has taken on initiatives that have bettered the lives of the citizens of Napanee.”

The letter went on to detail “the amazing work of Morningstar Mission,” which “began as St. Mary Magdalene’s Full Plate program which was started in 2002. Originating in our church basement we began with a weekly Saturday night meal which still continues to this day. From the humble beginnings at St. Mary Magdalene, this mission has grown into a beacon of hope to many in our Napanee community.”

In 2012, the church brought eight Congolese refugees to safety in Canada, Yeomans remarked. More recently, the church has had a hand in opening a charitable thrift store and provided a youth program offering free music lessons.

“This year we have 60 young people, aged 12-16, from the Greater Napanee community registered for free music education offered by qualified teachers through our church. This program not only offers free music education, but also provides a safe, nurturing environment where young people can feel at home. This past year at the Napanee District Secondary School commencement ceremony, St. Mary Magdalene expanded their support of young musicians by offering three scholarships to graduates continuing their post secondary school education in the field of music,” Yeomans noted.

His letter continued, “The people of St. Mary Magdalene, Napanee, work hard to support the citizens of Napanee through our various ministries. These ministries are only possible through the generosity of our members’ gifts of their time, talent and treasure. Thank you for considering leniency on our water invoice so that our limited funds can be used for the vital work we are doing for the glory of God and for the citizens of our town.”

Councillor Mike Schenk spoke first, suggesting that in years past there “was a bylaw in place” that was intended to give relief to citizens “if an accident happened… Certain applicants pleading their case… would get a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card… It gave the opportunity for some fairness” in their municipal billing. He asked Murphy if he knew anything about that.

Murphy answered, “I did try and look into it a bit today to see what the bylaw provisions have been in the past… In 2013, they repealed the one in five-year portion and actually allowed for annual. I don’t know if there’s been a change since then,” Murphy responded, referring to when and how often the bylaw-based relief program was operational.

Town Clerk Jessica Walters then spoke to clarify.“This is before my time, but… when we looked into this last year, a few years ago Council had actually made the decision to repeal the relief policy entirely, and that is the situation that we are currently in. If Council wanted to change that and go back to a relief system, we would be looking for a new policy with the parameters in which that would be deemed appropriate.” 

Schenk said, “Well, I was on when we had the policy… I think it’s only fair… They only do good in the community… so I’m in favour of doing what we did in the past… This was an accident, unbeknownst to you guys or anybody else, so I think we should help.”

Deputy Mayor Bryan Calver said, “I think we should just note and receive this and take a deeper look into things and see what we can do, have staff come back to us.”

This was a motion to “note and receive,” verified Mayor Terry Richardson, who asked Murphy if it would be “possible to get a report with respect to what options we have with respect to this request at our next meeting.”

Murphy said this was possible and that he would work with Utility staff members to make it so.

The motion passed, allowing for a further report to come back to the next Council meeting.

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