February 25, 2019
South Burnett Regional Council will temporarily cut Swickers’ water charges to help one of the region’s largest employers save money during a downturn in the pork industry.
At last week’s Council meeting, Councillors agreed to a request from the company to reduce its water usage charges.
Swickers had requested that a Tier 1 charge of $1.64 per kilolitre be applied to their plant’s water consumption.
Councillors voted to charge the company $1.64 for the first 20,000 kilolitres of water used in each six-month period this financial year.
A Tier 2 charge of $2.20 per kilolitre would then be levied for all water used above 20,000 kilolitres in each six-month period.
They also accepted a recommendation from Council officers that the situation be reviewed in June to determine if the concession should be extended for a further year to June 2020.
The reduction in water usage charges is not the first Swickers has sought.
In October 2017, the company told Council its costs were blowing out because of high water usage charges, which threatened its viability.
Council reduced Swickers’ tariff from Level 6 to Level 1 from September 1 to December 31 that year.
It also promised to review the situation in January 2018 and consider a further six-month extension if the situation had not improved.
Councillors were told the root cause of the problem was that the ongoing drought had severely impacted the company’s internal water supply.
This meant Swickers had to rely on town water to maintain their business.
In June 2018, the Council reduced its former six-tier water charges system to just three tiers as part of its 2018-19 Budget in an effort to provide some cost relief to high-volume users.
A meeting called by Mayor Keith Campbell to discuss the region’s water needs last November heard Swickers was still spending a “crippling” $50,000 a month on water.
At last week’s Council meeting, Finance portfolio chair Cr Ros Heit – who moved the motion – said the decision to grant further relief to Swickers was “challenging”.
“Obviously, we want to sell the water to recover our expenses. But at the same time, Swickers is a very large employer and it uses a lot of water.
“It’s a bit of a balancing act but I think – on balance – this is a good thing to do to ensure that Swickers will continue, which is what we want even though this does come at a cost to Council.”
Mayor Campbell said the tier system had been implemented to discourage the overuse of water.
“But there is another side to the usage of volumes of water, and that is business that depends on water for the creation of their operation,” Mayor Campbell said.
He said this was “a situation of necessity to ensure that this business continues to function”.
Cr Terry Fleischfresser said as far as he was concerned, the decision was a “no brainer”.
Councillors voted unanimously to agree to Swickers’ request, with Cr Jones and Potter absent from the room due to a conflict of interest.