Six months after saying no, Hawkesbury council has voted to cancel unpaid interest charges on a local business owner’s municipal water bill.

Johanne Séguin, owner of Buanderie Cayen, a commercial laundry service, wanted council to formally rescind more than $16,000 in interest that had accumulated on her water account over the past six years.  On May 27, 2019, council denied the request.

Séguin had previously claimed that when water costs for the business increased sharply after the town installed meters in 2011, then-Mayor René Berthiaume and Chief Administrative Officer Jean-Yves Carrier had said that the interest would be waived.

In 2017, council under former Mayor Jeanne Charlebois had also refused to cancel the interest.

When Hawkesbury council last met on December 16, 2019, new information was presented by Séguin, which included an email message Berthiaume had sent to her in 2017 declaring that discussions regarding the suspension of the interest payments had taken place and that a guarantee was made.

However, the guarantee was never formalized in a resolution approved by council.

Former Mayor Berthiaume approached council and said he took it for granted that that a formal agreement on paper had been made.  He said that the guarantee to do with Séguin was made in the spirit of the law.

In 2012, council attempted to ease the burden on certain water customers by approving a plan to allow businesses that faced a cost increase of more than 100 per cent to pay their 2011 invoice in installments over three years, interest free, provided they could prove efforts were being made to reduce water consumption.

However, when council made that decision, Séguin had already paid her 2011 tax and water bill.

After asking if he had any documented proof of the guarantee that Séguin was given, Councillor Yves Paquette criticized Berthiaume for not having a formal, written agreement in place with Séguin.

“She left thinking she had a deal,” said Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis.

Berthiaume said he took it for granted that there was a deal and that an administrative error had clearly been made somewhere.

“We are all humans,” said Mayor Paula Assaly.

She asked if it was fair to say that a procedural error was made. Berthiaume agreed.

Tsourounakis said he understood Paquette’s concerns that things were not done how they should be done but was concerned that the blame was being pinned on Séguin.

“That’s something we can fix today,” he said.

Treasurer Philippe Timbers, who joined the municipal administration in 2014, said he had been following proper procedures because he had not received any instructions to do otherwise.

Tsourounakis noted that Buanderie Cayen always paid higher and had a water meter before others because laundries use high amounts of water.  He said restaurants paid a much lower fixed, flat rate.

“Essentially, there was something lost in procedure,” said Assaly.

Council approved a motion introduced by Tsourounakis to reconsider waiving Séguin’s interest charges and a subsequent motion to waive the interest was approved.