Meeting organiser Jane Erkens with South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto in Nanango on Monday … Mrs Erkens told participants the proposed price rise would hit some of the area’s most disadvantaged residents the hardest

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.

Related articles:

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.

South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto chats with NaTDA president Gloria Kirkness after the footpath mini-meeting … the Mayor has promised to take the issue of a proposed 150 per cent standpipe water price rise back to Council
Mayor Otto spent time on Sunday at the Nanango standpipes talking to users to get their feelings about the proposed price rise ahead of Monday morning’s meeting (Photo: Jane Erkens)

Tarong Community Partnership Fund - click here
Anderssons Fruit Market for quality fruits and vegetables

9 Responses to "Otto Promises Price Review"

  1. Bill McIntyre  June 30, 2020

    What he’s actually saying is that he needs to ask permission from Spud Jones if he can change the decision. If the OK is given then Crs Frohloff, Potter and Henschen will change their votes. What a way to run a Council!

    I am surprised that it’s taken a minor revolution in the community for the Mayor to realise that over doubling the water charge, in drought, is a bad idea. That’s not making a simple mistake, that is plain ignorance. Was he on his phone when Kathy Duff spoke against it? How I wish Roz Frohloff would actually comment on something related to her community.

    Reply
  2. Marian Fern  June 30, 2020

    Not a good start for a new Mayor and council.

    Reply
  3. Robyn McNally  June 30, 2020

    We met with the Mayor and he admitted it was a bad decision.

    He has said it will not happen again as he will get the councillors to speak to their constituents before they vote on matters such as this in the future.

    This should be happening anyway.

    The “meeting” was scheduled for Monday the 29th June anyway as the Mayor had said he would be visiting every town in the South Burnett as one of his promises if he was elected.

    Reply
    • News Desk  July 23, 2020

      The footpath meeting was organised by Jane Erkens to coincide with Mayor Otto’s scheduled meet and greet at the Nanango Country Bakehouse.

      Reply
  4. C. Sando  June 30, 2020

    Well spoken Bill. That sounds about right.

    Reply
  5. Bill Weir  June 30, 2020

    What I think people will remember is that Spud and Frohloff voted for this despite the fact that a lot of people in their divisions rely on standpipes. And unlike Otto (who’s brand new to this) they knew – or should have known – that the calculations on water consumption used to arrive at this foolish decision were less than 20% of true average consumption, done the sums on the back of an envelope and spoken up about it.

    Not surprising they were nowhere to be seen at this meeting! But congratulations to Brett Otto for listening to people, recognising the error when it was pointed out, and immediately promising to get this decision back on the table. Yes, it was a bungle – but he admitted that and is now working to fix it. So give the man credit where it’s due. Everyone makes mistakes when they’re new at a job. It’s how those mistakes are dealt with that matters.

    Reply
  6. Not Surprised  June 30, 2020

    Bill I agree with your first comment. It’s Spud Jones, Frohloff, Potter & Henschen who are united as one group. I’d call it a boys club but given there are two women, I’ll just call it a culture club. You only had to look at how they ousted Kathy Duff out of the Deputy Mayor’s role to see they had swarmed together like hornets.

    I will give credit to Otto for realising they made a mistake, however during the election campaign all we heard from Otto & Henschen was how they were going to consult with the residents. Mayor Otto has made the effort to speak to community members but it came too little, too late. He and his Councillors should have done that at the start before any voting took place to increase water costs.

    As far as Henschen goes as the Div 6 Councillor, not sure what he is doing but that generous weekly wage us ratepayers are giving him must be doing wonders for feeding his cattle and looking after his farm because he hasn’t done anything for Div 6 to date. He hasn’t even availed himself to those in Div 6.

    Otto on the other hand at least spent several hours for a meet and greet at Dan’s Diner the other week but where was the Div 6 Councillor? Nowhere to be seen! So much for consultation with ratepayers / voters in Div 6.

    Otto like Henschen & Schumacher are the new kids on the block. Cr. Schumacher is impressive and I think she genuinely has the best interest of the ratepayers on her agenda. Otto, it takes courage to admit you were wrong and it is humbling to see but the man who was promoted throughout the election as the “Man with a Strong Voice”, haven’t heard a peep out of him let alone communicate with residents.

    Just another follower and groupie to the culture club.

    Reply
  7. Helen McLean  July 9, 2020

    So when exactly is this price review supposed to be happening? It seems to be a lot of noise to quieten the masses whilst the original intention happens anyhow. Are they just hoping it will all go away, people will get used to the hike and life will go on? This has a huge impact on the lives of the people in our towns who are already suffering.

    Reply
    • News Desk  July 9, 2020

      Mayor Otto stated at the Nanango street meeting the decision would be reconsidered at a Council meeting. The next Council meeting will be held on July 15.

      Reply

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