June 29, 2020
A Council decision to raise standpipe water prices from $4.10 to $10 per kilolitre will be reconsidered, South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto promised on Monday.
The move came after Mayor Otto volunteered to talk to aggrieved ratepayers at an informal street meeting in Nanango.
Council’s motive for raising the price was to reduce disparity between town and standpipe water charges, but it was pointed out at the meeting the result would be an average price hike of $1750 per year for standpipe users.
Mayor Otto said while he could not promise the decision would be changed – because he only had one vote, the same as his six fellow Councillors – he could definitely promise the matter would be brought back to Council for further consideration.
“I’m sorry,” Mayor Otto said.
“We received the report we made our decision on about a month before the meeting. It’s clear to me now we should have consulted with the community before we voted on it.
“All I can say is that I’ve only been in the job for eight weeks and most of that time has been tied up with the Budget.
“But I’ll take this as a lesson for the future.
“I’m sorry. We’ve made a mistake. But is there anyone here today who hasn’t made a mistake themselves at some time?”
The street meeting was organised by Jane Erkens and held outside her Nanango Real Estate business in Drayton Street.
Mrs Erkens said Council’s decision to raise standpipe charges had provoked widespread anger in the Nanango community.
She said many residents living on rural residential blocks had to rely on standpipes, particularly during drought.
“I think this decision will impact some of the most disadvantaged members of our community really hard,” Mrs Erkens said.
“There are a lot of people on Struggle Street at the moment, and raising prices for an essential service isn’t the right thing to do.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, numbers at the street meeting were limited to 20, and all participants were asked to sign an attendance sheet and observe social distancing.
The Mayor began by saying he was aware there were concerns over both the quality of standpipe water and the proposed new price structure.
Producing two bottles of water, he said he wanted to lay one of these concerns to rest immediately.
One of the bottles contained water from Kingaroy’s water supply, the other from Nanango’s standpipes.
The Mayor then taste-tested the water, declaring they were virtually identical in quality because both were treated.
He welcomed anyone who disputed that to repeat the same taste test themselves.
Turning to water prices, the Mayor said he was aware there were concerns over Council’s proposed new price structure and he wanted to hear people’s thoughts.
An animated discussion quickly followed, with several people asking how the proposed new price was arrived at.
The Mayor said a key driver for the change was that Council was trying to reduce the difference between the fees users connected to Council’s water supply paid each year, and the fees charged to standpipe users.
To illustrate, the Mayor said every household connected to Nanango’s water supply scheme was charged $611.50 per year for access – a charge that applies even if they use no water at all.
After this, households paid about $1.54 per kilolitre.
As a result, a household using a kilolitre per week (52kl per year) would pay $611.50 plus $80.08.
This averaged out to $13.29 per kilolitre, which was more than three times higher than the current standpipe price of $4.10 per kilolitre, even though water for both systems passed through the same treatment processes.
However, when asked what amount of water an average household used, the Mayor said he understood the figure used by Council staff was an average 140 kilolitres per person per year.
Some quick calculations soon showed that on this basis, a two-person household connected to the town water system would pay $1043 per year in access and consumption charges, and a two-person household using the standpipes would pay $1148, or roughly $100 more.
Worse, those same calculations showed that if the standpipe price rose to $10 – as Council voted to do at its June meeting – standpipe users would pay an average $2800 a year for water.
Another resident then pointed out that if the new standpipe price was put into effect, the price disparity would be an incentive for some residents to go into competition with Council and offer to sell their own tap water to standpipe users.
The Mayor said the concerns raised at the meeting were valid.
He would take the proposed price rise back to Council and thanked everyone who attended for bringing the matter to his attention.
CLARIFICATION: South Burnett Online has confirmed the figure quoted by Mayor Brett Otto on Monday for average annual water consumption, ie. 140kl per person per annum, is incorrect. Average annual water consumption in the South Burnett is 52kl per annum, which makes the calculations and assumptions at the end of this report – cited at the street meeting – also incorrect. Mayor Otto has been approached for comment but has not returned our calls.