South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto, right, spent 12 hours at the weekend getting the opinions of standpipe users about the South Burnett Regional Council’s water pricing before Wednesday’s Council meeting (Photo: Facebook)
Cr Kathy Duff

September 16, 2020

South Burnett Regional Council will reduce its standpipe water prices from $10 to $6 per kilolitre for potable water – and $5 per kilolitre for non-potable water – until December 31.

The concession was made after an epic multi-hour debate at Wednesday’s Council meeting, sparked by a proposal from Cr Kathy Duff to reduce the price to $4.50 per kilolitre for potable water and $4 per kilolitre for non-potable water until the region’s drought declaration is lifted.

The renewed debate over standpipe water pricing followed a sustained public campaign after the cost was more than doubled – from $4.10 to $10 per kilolitre – at Council’s June meeting.

Cr Duff, the only person to vote against the price rise in June, said the region was in the grip of one of its worst droughts in decades, and it was time for Council to show care and compassion for residents whose tanks had run dry.

Cr Duff’s motion to reduce the price to $4.50 was supported by Mayor Brett Otto and Cr Kirstie Schumacher but was defeated 4-3 when Crs Roz Frohloff, Gavin Jones, Danita Potter and Scott Henschen opposed it.

Cr Roz Frohloff then moved that the price be dropped to $7 for the remainder of this financial year, but raised back to $10 on July 1 next year with a percentage increase thereafter.

This provoked more debate.

“At these prices, we are well outside of what I think is fair and reasonable to the most vulnerable,” Mayor Otto said.

He said Unity Water, a commercial water provider, was only charging $4.46.

“I don’t understand why we are charging $7. I feel it is certainly going to put people under pressure,” he said.

Mayor Brett Otto

He said at $7, a mum with four children using standpipe water would pay almost $1200 extra than the same person on town water.

More discussion ensued and Cr Frohloff’s motion was defeated unanimously.

A related motion – submitted prior to the meeting by Cr Duff – was then brought forward for debate.

This proposed to return the price to its original $4.10 per kilolitre level until Council’s infrastructure team undertook a full review of standpipe charges across the region and reported back to Council.

At this point, CEO Mark Pitt warned that if this motion was lost, the status quo – ie. $10/kl – would remain.

Councillors seemed to be agreeing the cost should be lowered but the amount and duration of the reduction – and whether the price should be $4.10, $4.50, $5 or $6 – became the topic of another lengthy debate and amendments.

Cr Duff said she was begging her fellow councillors to show some compassion, some empathy for the community.

Mayor Otto agreed, saying it was an opportunity to get things right and support the most vulnerable.

“I plead with you to support this resolution,” he said.

Cr Gavin Jones

More discussion followed, with Cr Jones saying he “was over” the issue and the $4.10 figure would “become irrelevant” after the review because Council was a business and had to be sustainable.

“I take offence at people in the community who say we do not listen, we do not work for the people. That is the most outrageous statement … there’s been some treatment dished out to councillors. I’m a public figure. Give it to me, I don’t care. But there are some things out there that are hard to cop,” Cr Jones said.

He said “sheer frustration” rather than emotional comments “pulling at heartstrings” had brought him to the point of accepting a three-month price reduction.

However, Cr Jones moved an amendment – seconded by Cr Frohloff – that Council charge $6/kl for potable water and $5/kl for non-potable water until December 31.

At this time, Councillors would be presented with a detailed cost analysis and could then vote on a more permanent standpipe water price when they were in full possession of the facts.

The amended motion was passed by the same 4-3 vote which defeated the first motion at the meeting.

A video recording of the meeting is expected to be posted on Council’s website during the next few days.

* * *

During the course of the discussions, it emerged that:

  • Councillors made June’s decision to raise the price of standpipe water from $4.10 to $10 per kilolitre in the absence of any detailed analysis of what the right price should really be.
  • Council had planned to increase the price of household water connections by 4 per cent in this year’s Budget, but decided to limit the increase to 2 per cent to provide a measure of community support during the pandemic; however, standpipe users were hit with a 150 per cent increase.
  • Despite the current drought, standpipe users account for just 1.6 per cent of the region’s total water usage; consumption figures would be even less in normal times when users had tank water available.
  • Council’s June decision to increase standpipe water prices by 150 per cent would have seen it earn more than $300,000 extra this financial year, even though many standpipe users are among the region’s most vulnerable residents.
  • The largest standpipe users – in terms of volume – are commercial water carriers, some of whom come from other regions to fill up then resell the South Burnett’s water elsewhere. These water carriers could be reined in by introducing a licensing system that only allowed locally based carriers to use the standpipes. Locks could be installed on the high-volume water outlets at the standpipes (used by water carriers) which only licensed carriers could unlock – a simple and effective system already used by several neighbouring regions.
  • Mayor Otto said he had spent 12 hours over the weekend talking with standpipe water users at Nanango and Blackbutt to get their views, and was convinced the price rise was ill-advised.

* * *

Jane Erkens speaking at a street meeting in Nanango in June … Mayor Otto was told at this meeting that the standpipe price rise would hit some of the area’s most disadvantaged residents the hardest

The Council debate over standpipe water prices produced anger on social media among some residents who watched it via livestreaming.

Nanango resident Jane Erkens – who organised a petition against the July 1 price rise which attracted more than 600 signatures – said she was astonished to find standpipe water users accounted for just 1.6 per cent of the South Burnett’s total water consumption.

She thought the Council debate showed some councillors had very little real concern for their communities.

“Mayor Brett Otto, Cr Kathy Duff and Cr Kirstie Schumacher argued that Council should show some compassion and decency to standpipe users in these difficult times,” Jane said.

“I really applaud them for that.

“But I think Councillors who argued Council is a business show they don’t really understand their job and shouldn’t be doing it.”

Mrs Erkens said she had received a number of communications from local residents after the meeting.

“These surprised me because they were from people who don’t ordinarily comment on issues like this,” Jane said.

“But a lot of them said they were disappointed with performance of some Councillors and were very upset about the whole way this issue has been handled.”

* * *

Some reactions from social media:

“The majority of locals are against it, HOW can Councillors NOT listen to reason?”

“It SHOULD be about fairness too, what kind of ppl do this to their desperate neighbours. We ALL have to live here together. A town SHOULD pull together in hard times like drought, fires etc …”

“Absolutely disgusted by these ‘voices’ of our community. Cr Jones, Potter and Henschen should hang their heads in shame. Huge respect to Kathy Duff, Kirstie Schumacher & Brett Otto”

“Don’t give up folks … keep up the fight …the pack of four need to be held accountable.”

“Why does Council treat people like this?”

“Cr Duff put forward a great motion … councillors Jones, Frohloff, Potter and Henschen voted against it after carrying on how they are a compassionate council. Standpipe users account for 1.6% of all water used in our region. 1;6%! Just goes to show we do not waste water like they have been saying. What a joke. Geez, I hope it rains soon to give people a bit of reprieve.”

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8 Responses to "Standpipe Prices Trimmed … For Now"

  1. Greg Pomfret  September 17, 2020

    I find it amazing that at first the 2 parties representing the majority of the people who would need the water stand pipe were among the loudest to not want a reduction in the costs and the statement by Cr Jones that the council needs to make money out of it is laughable. The council is not a money-making venture, it’s a service provider that should spend ratepayers money in the best interests of all SBRC residents.

    If you wish to trim the fat I can recommend you look squarely in your own back yard – possibly use contractors where possible as bigger bang for your dollar. Most of the council utes are 4 seaters, so why have 1 person in each vehicle if at the same job? And when filling potholes, why do you need up to 8 people to do this? Not that long ago there were 2 – possibly 3 – people and road users using common sense around the flashing lights on these vehicles.

    Congratulations to Brett Otto and other councillors for getting out there and listening to the people of the South Burnett. The rest of you councillors who think you know best should always remember that SB residents voted you in, and they will be the same people who vote you out sooner or later.

    Reply
  2. Judy Schulz  September 17, 2020

    I congratulate Mayor Otto, councillors Kathy Duff & Kirstie Schumacher for standing up for the most vulnerable people in our community. Mayor Otto clearly showed his leadership skills yesterday and showcased he is not only a great leader but a man with a heart and compassion.

    There is no one more disappointed in Scott’s Henschen’s woeful performance yesterday than me. I am also disappointed in councillors Jones, Potter and Frohloff.

    As Henschen’s campaign manager, I marketed him during the election where he promised he would communicate, consult and listen to the people. I gave him sound advice about how he needs to stop talking about himself and to actually listen to what the people are saying, listen to their problems and help them. That advice undeniably fell on deaf ears.

    To debate the charges for the standpipe water for 3 hours for just 1.6 per cent of the South Burnett’s total water consumption was unnecessary. It could have been avoided and saved ratepayers’ time and money if – from the very start – all the councillors communicated, consulted and listened to their constituents as most promised in their election spiels.

    Councillor Henschen said “We are a compassionate council, but some things have to be sacrificed in drought therefore I can’t support Cr. Duff and we have to make serious sacrifices, perhaps they can do something to help themselves”.

    What more can people do, Councillor Henschen? A rain dance, perhaps? Rest assured Councillors, the people on the land and those in town with dry tanks DO NOT waste water – we are in a time of severe drought. And if you don’t understand what compassion and the need to care is all about, you should not be in this job!

    Clearly, Cr. Henschen and Cr. Jones are both out of touch with reality and didn’t comprehend they are mistaken. Councils are compelled to practice good management but are not compelled to make a profit. Regardless, there is a trending theme occurring within Council, a division where the pack of four are sticking together to instil a power base against the Mayor and the community.

    Congratulations to Jane Erkens for standing up for her community and tackling this issue head on.

    Reply
  3. Sylvia Regeling  September 17, 2020

    I agree fully with the previous comments – the cost of water from the standpipe should remain at a cost of $4.50 per kilo litre – not just until December 31 but rather it should remain at this cost indefinitely while we struggle with this drought. Once the drought has well and truly broken perhaps it can THEN be reviewed.

    Whilst council must be accountable for ratepayers (OUR) money I agree that council is NOT a business and should not be considered as such. It is my understanding that council’s role is to provide their constituents with those services that the constituents cannot provide for themselves. This includes water. I believe the standpipe users (1.6% of all water used in SBRC) are principally from properties where their only other water supply is from the catching of rain water and whilst in drought this is in very short supply.

    I believe the standpipe users would be the most responsible with water as most would understand just what life is like without it.

    They do not have the luxury of endless supplies at the turn of a tap; they do not have the luxury of a nearby hydrant in the event of fire; they do have to bear the expense of carting water in drought; every time they turn the tap on for a glass of water it not only costs for the water but also costs for electricity to pump the water to the tap; there is also the cost incurred by the property owner to store water (tanks). These costs must all be taken into account when arriving at cost equality between town and rural residents.

    I would like to congratulate Mayor Otto and Cr Duff for standing up for their constituents. As for Cr Jones, Frohloff, Potter and Henschen – you showed no compassion – shame on you for not supporting those who put you in the job and those who pay your wages!

    Reply
  4. Annette Schumacher  September 17, 2020

    Perhaps every SBRC ratepayer needs to know where and how the remaining 98.4% of the region’s total water usage gets used.

    Reply
  5. Robert Head  September 18, 2020

    Our self-managed superannuation fund owns a small commercial property in the South Burnett.

    Water access charge for 1/2 year to 30.6.20 was $294.00 and for 6 months to 31.12.20 it is 369.50

    Water usage for the year was 23kl at a cost of approximately $38.00. Total cost was $701.50 or $30.50 per kl.

    On this basis, the $10 per kl at the standpipe appears fair.

    The only failing by SB Regional Council was the lack of ability to sell the proposal.

    Perhaps the increase could have been introduced on a staggered basis rather than one big increase which got the people’s backs up.

    Reply
  6. News Desk  September 18, 2020

    Your figures are correct, Robert, but the amount of water used at your commercial property is very low and your household rates bill may be a better guide to water usage (if you’re on town water).

    Just FYI, the SBRC estimates average consumption is 140 litres per person per day (ie. 51kl per annum) so an average two-person household uses around 102kl per annum.

    On this basis – and using your figures – a property connected to the town water supply would pay a $663.50 annual connection charge plus $168.30 usage charge (ie. $831.80 all up) while a standpipe user would pay $418.20 pa (at the former rate of $4.10/kl) or $1020 pa (at the rate of $10/kl).

    We agree some people might think it unfair a standpipe user could get the same amount of water as a person connected to the town supply for roughly $411 a year less (at $4.10/kl). But this overlooks the extra costs standpipe users have to pay to buy a pod, make 102 return trips a year from home to the nearest standpipe to fill it (assuming they use a 1000 litre pod), then pay for the electricity to pump the water from their pod to their tank and/or into their house – extra costs that would bring their total annual outlays close to (or a little above) those of a town water customer.

    And at $10/kl, standpipe users would not only pay almost $200 more per annum to Council for the same amount of water, but have to pay all the additional costs as well – all without the convenience of water on demand that town users enjoy.

    This is the root of community upset about this issue. In our opinion, the SBRC appears to have overlooked the extra costs standpipe users face when it came to setting standpipe prices.

    And because they don’t pay water carters to make bulk deliveries to their properties, standpipe users would be among the region’s most economically vulnerable.

    Reply
  7. Robert Head  September 20, 2020

    Thank you for your comments from the news desk. Our household water rates were also low as most of the time we ran the household on tank water.

    For readers’ information, a full pod weighs 1 tonne and most box trailers are rated to carry 750kg unbraked.

    On this basis most standpipe users with trailers would be in breach of the law.

    Reply
  8. Jane Erkens  September 21, 2020

    Some of those who pick up water from the stand pipe only take 750litres to comply with the weight allowed on their trailers. Others have larger trailers.

    Reply

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