WATER PRICES: What every councillor said in heated debate
TODAY the Warren Truss Chamber housed a heated debate about the price of standpipe water in the South Burnett, which saw the region’s seven councillors divided.
The highly disputed price hike, where the cost of standpipe water rise from $4.10 to $10 per kilolitre, was slashed today - bringing the price down to $6 per kl for potable water and $5 per kl for non-potable water.
The first motion put forth by Division 5 Councillor Kathy Duff read that “on compassionate grounds due to the drought we set the price of the standpipe at $4.50 per kilolitre for potable water and $4 per kl for non-potable water and that these prices remain in place until our regions drought declaration is removed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. After that any proposed change in price can be brought back to council for mention”.
“I’m appealing to my fellow councillors to show that we are a compassionate, considerate and caring council. That we have listened to the people, and we are prepared to make a change and get this right,” Cr Duff said.
“I have heard and listened to the appeals of the people of Nanango, and other areas across our region, and I’m prepared to listen.”
Drawing attention to the fact other councils, including Toowoomba, had lowered the price of standpipe water to assist residents in times of hardship, she said “we need to show we are not arrogant, and we are prepared to listen and make a change.”
In response to Cr Duff’s resolution, Division 6 Cr Scott Henschen said times of hardship call for drastic measures and sometimes sacrifices need to be made.
“The people of the South Burnett need to work with and around drought situations,” Cr Henschen said.
“Sometimes we need to make some serious sacrifices to continue. Our water is gold. There are some tragic stories out there, but I also urge people to take into consideration what they can do themselves – rather than rely solely on council.”
Likewise, Division 2 Cr Gavin Jones suggested that opposition to the increased price is only one side of the argument and there needs to be more compromise on a solution that benefits all.
In support of Cr Duff’s motion, Division 4 Cr Kirstie Schumacher said “since making this decision in June, it has not rained and tanks are dry.”
“Regardless of where you live in our region, or what infrastructure you have installed on your property, we are all waiting on the rain,” Cr Schumacher said.
“It’s my view that this is our region’s time of need. I support a small increase in the fee and recognised this charge, like all fees and charges, should have been reviewed some time ago to ensure it supports the sustainability of our water infrastructure.
“But at the moment times are tough. It is my view that increasing the fee from $4.10 to $4.50 per kl is a fair and reasonable increase in the current conditions. Perhaps when times are better, we can continue to review this charge.”
Mayor Brett Otto said after communicating with residents throughout the South Burnett in the months following the June general meeting he re-evaluated his stance on standpipe prices, saying he would never have voted to increase the charge if he had known the local struggles.
For this reason, he also expressed his support for Cr Duff’s motion.
“I heard some really tragic stories that I did not expect to hear. Had I known the impact of the decision to increase the price from $4.10 to $10 per kl, I think I would have taken a different perspective on the matter,” he said.
“I apologise to all the standpipe users that I did not engage meaningfully with prior to voting to increase the price. That is not how I like to operate and I will not be making that mistake again.”
This resolution was rejected four to three, with Cr Potter, Cr Jones, Cr Henschen, and Cr Frohloff voting against it.
A second resolution was put forward by Division 1 Cr Roz Frohloff which read: “that an amendment for standpipe charges be made to have it brought back to $7/kl for the remainder of the 2020/2021 year, and the standpipe price be increased to $10 per/kl for the 2021/2022 financial year”.
Cr Duff and Cr Schumacher both strongly opposed this resolution, citing the high price in times of drought and the timeline in relation to the December review.
Cr Otto said these prices are outside of what is fair and reasonable to the lower socio-economic areas of the South Burnett.
The resolution was defeated unanimously.
The final motion brought to the table was to revoke the June decision entirely and reset the price of standpipe water to $4.10 until the infrastructure team completes and presents back to council a full review of water standpipe charges across the region.
Cr Schumacher shared her support for the price reset, expressing concern that a new number should not be settled on until the council had completed a more extensive review on what the right price should be.
Cr Jones, who was particularly critical of this motion, initially said he would agree with councils decision to reset the $4.10 charge, but only out of sheer frustration with the topic.
“This is a hard call for me. You want to go down this path? Because I know exactly where it’s going,” he said.
“I know we’ll have serious conversations and we’ll get smashed again come 1st of January when there’s other changes. I know it. You all know it.
“This $4.10, we’ve had information given to us that it is not covering costs right across the network. It’s a $10.8 million regional network that we have to maintain. There’s a lot of numbers behind all this, numbers people in this community don’t want to listen to.
“All the emotional strings that have been pulled and all the comments that have been made, that’s not what’s stopping me at this point. Sheer frustration has brought me to this point.”
Division 3 Cr Danita Potter said she agreed that reverting back to $4.10 was a poor decision, arguing that a price increase was necessary, it was just too much too soon.
“We are likely to go into level four water restrictions very soon, so how are we going to monitor what is coming out of those standpipes,” she said.
A last-minute amendment was introduced by Cr Gavin Jones, which acted as a compromise between Cr Frohloff’s motion and Cr Duff’s second motion.
The amendment stated potable standpipe be decreased to $6 per kl and the non-potable Hivesville standpipe drop to $5.
These prices will remain in place while the infrastructure team completes a full review of standpipe water charges across the region, to be readdressed at the December council review.
The amendment was voted in as a resolution four to three. The resolution was then passed in a four to three vote, with Cr Jones, Cr, Henschen, Cr Potter, and Cr Frohloff voting in favour.
Cr Otto, Cr Duff and Cr Schumacher voted against the resolution, in favour of temporarily reverting back to the original $4.10 charge.