May 5, 2021
South Burnett ratepayers could see water charges rise by up to 80 per cent over the next decade, thanks to the State Government.
At Wednesday’s 2021-22 Budget planning meeting, Councillors were told the SBRC will have to spend between $12 and $17 million on a safety upgrade of Gordonbrook Dam’s spillway that will not deliver “a single drop” of extra water for the region.
The upgrade has been mandated by the State Government, who have given affected Councils limited time to complete the project.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Councillors looked at financial projections that showed the effect the spillway spend will have on Council’s water charges over the next 10 years.
Projection scenarios included options for the region’s wastewater system subsidising the water treatment system, and also taking out a long-term loan to cover the cost.
In most cases, the net effect would produce skyrocketing water usage charges, with a projected 8.8 per cent increase in the coming 2021-22 Budget and rises above 6 per cent per annum over the following nine years.
The cumulative effect of these rises would be to almost double the region’s water charges by the early 2030s.
Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones and Cr Scott Henschen said they were dumbfounded this enormous outlay was being forced on councils by the State Government.
They were even more dumbfounded the work would produce “not a single extra drop of water”.
Gordonbrook Dam’s spillway was last fixed in 2014 after it suffered extensive damage in the 2013 floods.
Work to repair the spillway then cost $4.5 million. However, South Burnett ratepayers only had to pick up $80,000 of the project’s cost after the Federal and State Governments stepped in to fund the balance.
Cr Kathy Duff said she thought it was well past time for the State Government to review how small councils were funded, because the cost of maintaining basic infrastructure was becoming unsupportable for councils with small rates bases.
Cr Duff reminded the meeting Queensland’s Auditor-General has recently warned that up to a third of the State’s 77 councils were at risk of becoming unsustainable.
CEO Mark Pitt said the spillway problem affected a number of other councils with dams as well as the South Burnett, and they were seeing similar affects on their finances.
He noted the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) agreed with Cr Duff’s view that “the system was broken”.
Mr Pitt said the LGAQ had been advocating for a review of how Queensland’s local government system was funded for a number of years.
In the end, councillors resolved to defer any decision on future water charges until staff have undertaken further modelling.