Meter petition sees swell of support

An Armstrong man says his petition campaign to stop the city from installing water meters in homes is gaining steam.

Robert Thibeau mailed petitions out to every Armstrong resident, at an out-of-pocket cost of nearly $900, beginning May 9. It’s his second campaign to have the city stop its plan of meter installation, a move Thibeau claims is nothing more than a tax grab.

In 2010, Thibeau led a successful campaign that defeated an alternate approval process in which the city hoped to borrow the remaining $450,000 of the $750,000 price tag. Thibeau said he was able to get more than 10 per cent of the population to vote no, which would have been around 320 signatures, to defeat the application.

The petitions for the alternate approval process were provided by the City of Armstrong.

“There’s no time limit on how long this petition campaign will run,” said Thibeau. “Hopefully it’s done within the next month. Initial response has been very good. I’m getting returns in the mail and some scanned ones. There’s only been a couple of detractors so far, which is kind of nice.”

Council has said it still plans to install the meters and has been looking for government grants to pay for the remainder of the installation price tag. The city has $300,000 already put aside for the project.

Thibeau said the petition mail-out was brought on by what he calls council’s arrogance and their refusal to listen to the electorate.

“They’re still embarking on this (meter installation), and doggedly so, without the consent of the majority of voters in Armstrong,” he said. “We’re going to put the kibosh on it.

“I’m getting the feeling that people are not willing to be told any longer what to do by a minority group. Council is there to do the bidding of the majority. It’s called democracy.”

The brochure also calls for the possible removal of the entire council in the upcoming November civic elections. And while he said he’s had people asking him to run for mayor, Thibeau said it’s something he wouldn’t consider at this time.

“I’m not a politician, I’m civic-minded and I’m more than willing to facilitate forming a team and go from there,” said Thibeau. “I would really have to dig down deep to consider running. At this time, absolutely not.”

City administrator Patti Ferguson said water meters have been part of Armstrong’s official community plan language since 1996, and have been part of five-year financial plans since 2005, before the make-up of the current council.

“In that plan, 2010 became the out-year on the 2005 plan, and there is a line that says ‘residential water metering 2010,’ so we’ve been planning,” said Ferguson. “This is not a spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff decision made by this particular council. It’s part of a very carefully managed water plan.”

Ferguson said that carefully managed plan has allowed for growth in the city.

Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper is aware of Thibeau’s latest petition campaign.

Pieper said he has never met or spoken to Thibeau, and stated Thibeau has a right to exercise freedom of speech.

However, Pieper said some of the information in the brochure is inaccurate.

“I’m aware of his concern over water meters,  however he has stated it’s a tax grab, expensive and a total waste of money,” said Pieper. “If we are successful in obtaining a grant for installation of meters, it will not personally cost residents any additional money.”

Pieper said the plan of installing water meters for Armstrong homes is a beneficial one.

“Our goal is to save taxpayers money, and conserve water and charge high users accordingly,” said the mayor.

Armstrong residents currently pay $255 per year for water, and all Armstrong business and commercial property owners are on meters and pay according to usage.

Pieper said he will be sending a formal letter to Thibeau, inviting him to to sit down for a meeting on the matter with council.

Ferguson said Armstrong is the only community in the North Okanagan Regional District that does not have homes with water meters.