The basement flooded – what do you do? Call the plumber. Owner could have called city hall. Customer service with a happy ending.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 13, 2012

There is a new broom at city hall.  It`s behind the door of the new city manager`s office.  He is quite capable of using it to clean things up.

City Manager Jeff Fielding is bringing a different customer focus to city hall.

As city manager`s go – Jeff Fielding was carved out of a different piece of wood.  Not in office 60 days and he`s done or about to do two things this city hall staff has not seen before.  He had some stationary printed up with the word “Thank You” printed on the outside and inside blank space for him to thank a staff member for something they`ve done.  That’s going to come as a pleasant surprise to our civil servants at city hall.

Next on his list are somewhat different marching orders for what Jeff Fielding calls his ‘top 60’ – these are the men and woman that  serve as the top level people at city hall.. General Managers, Directors, Executive Directors; that lot – the bosses.

Each of them is going to get a tap on the shoulder and Fielding is going to explain that during the month he wants them to get out on the street and meet with people. Drop in on store owners, restaurant managers maybe even apartment building managers and the guys at the gas stations who process your payment.

Not sure if Fielding is going to give these “top 60” tin cups with a few coins in the bottom they can rattle to indicate they would like a contribution or perhaps a mug filled with pencils they can sell.  The point is, Fielding wants his people out on the street with their ears wide open able to listen to what people have to say.  Should be an interesting exercise.

If some of those civil servants are going to call on home owners as well they might want to slide over to Glenwood  School Drive and talk to  Sara O`Hara about the way city hall works.  O`Hara is a full time student pursuing an education degree.  Her husband lost his job due to downsizing last month.

She explains:  “Last night we found that our laundry room was backed up with sewage.  We called a plumber and were told it would be an extra $100 to have someone come on a Sunday, so we didn’t use water all night and the plumber came first thing this morning.  He told us his fee would be $450.  Obviously we had no choice since our basement was flooded and with two young children we need water.

O`Hara went on to say: “The plumber put his snake through the drain and found out the blockage is on city property.  He advised us to call the city.

“My husband”  she continued “called 311.  He was informed that if he had called the city first they would have sent a plumber and we would not have been charged.  Since we called a private plumber, however, we are fully responsible for the bill.  The city is willing to send a truck tomorrow morning to video the pipe to verify the blockage is on city property, but will not reimburse us even once they see this.”

With the basement flooded Sara did what anyone would do - call a plumber. She could have called the city and they would have sent a plumber. How was O'Hara to know that?

O’Hara says her “plumber told us the city of Hamilton fully reimburses for plumbing services where the issue is on city property, up to $600.”

“I just don’t understand”, said O’Hara ” how any resident would know to call the city in such a situation.  And the city would have to pay their plumber just as much as we did the private one.”

Ms O`Hara did what a lot of people do – she called her Ward Councillor which in this instance happened to be Marianne Meed Ward – and wouldn’t you know it – Meed Ward was on Spring Break vacation and her trusty assistant was also away.  O`Hara explained to Meed Ward in an email that:  ” Our neighbourhood has had many issues with flooded properties in the past but nothing seems to be done.  I know you probably can’t help us specifically but perhaps this issue can be solved in the future by at least making residents aware of their need to call the city when there is flooding, or to have the city look at sewer issues on our street.”

O’Hara added that: ” We had just re-done our basement in December and now our two month old carpet is garbage.  We are going to have to make our first insurance claim ever.  This is just a nightmare for our family.”

Meed Ward did pick up her email while on vacation and punted this one to her acting assistant with the comment: I am so sorry to hear about this. I have copied my acting assistant Sheri Wainman to look into this ASAP to see if there is an option through the city’s insurance or some other way to assist.”

Shortly after this story was originally posted – we got an email from Ms O’Hara.  We will let her tell you what happened next.

Meed Ward’s assistant Sherri, contacted me about an hour after I sent the email to you.  She directed me to Kelly-Jo Vautour, the Risk Management coordinator.  Kelly hooked me up with the ex-gratia grant for public sewer back-ups  and we are going to get $500 from the region.  She and Sherri (Mead-Ward’s assistant) really jumped on this and were both sincerely sorry that we were dealing with the mess of the aftermath of the flood.

They were both fantastic.  I even told Kelly that she restored my faith in the region.  I did mention to her that it is not a well advertised grant, and if I had not pursued action with my councilor I would have simply been out the money.  She agreed that something does need to be done to increase awareness.

Either way, we were reimbursed the cost for the plumber which is all I really wanted.  We have to figure out now if we are going to go through insurance over the carpet or just skip that because of the deductible and potential increases in our policy.

The region is coming tomorrow to check out our pipes and figure out if further maintenance needs to be done to avoid future incidences like this.   It has been a crazy day!!


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2 comments to The basement flooded – what do you do? Call the plumber. Owner could have called city hall. Customer service with a happy ending.

  • Charles Learn

    From my experience from a similar situation several years ago, if the problem was on the city side, Halton Region will send out a restoration company to fully restore your basement at their cost. They will only do it if you ask.

  • Debbie A

    Our basement had sewer back up due to tree roots in the main sewer line just over two years ago. We discovered it when we got home @11pm on a Saturday night. I immediately called Halton Region and they sent out service people within half an hour. They augured out the lines which were blocked due to tree roots.

    One caveat everyone should know – make sure you have sewer back up coverage on your home owners insurance policy – not all brokers and direct writers put the endorsment on your policy. Without it = you are not covered for sewer back up.

    Our basement was a $50K claim – $7K just in disposal – was horrible.

    Don’t call the city after hours – call Halton Region. More info here: