THIS week Caboolture News asked Moreton Bay Regional Council candidates to tell us what their solution was to the water issue.
Many passed the buck back on to the State Government, suggesting water reform was forced on local government and they have been left to mop up Labor's mess. However, all agreed the cost of water and sewerage had to be reviewed.
QUESTION: Water rates are one of the issues that are worrying families and businesses in Moreton Bay region. Please tell us as a councillor or as the mayor what actions you would take to bring down the cost of water, and then maintain it at a reasonable level while at the same time ensuring water security, new infrastructure programs and ongoing maintenance continue.
RETURN water to local government care or streamline the current water bodies. I believe Moreton Bay Regional Council needs to work closely with the new State Government policy on reducing the cost of water and sewerage to residents. Some ideas I support are:
Infrastructure loans to the large water items (their repayments be extended). This alone will reduce the bulk water price; Reintroduction of state subsidies to assist new water and sewerage projects; and
Lowering the tariffs' cost of power will also help minimise water and sewerage rises. I am determined to see through to fruition the continuation of the sewerage projects of Toorbul, Meldale and Whitepatch.
The council was the only Queensland council to subsidise Unitywater's increases to sewerage and water access fees. I believe we need to continue these subsidies.
WE DIDN'T want Unitywater. They've resolved few issues and they are merely a middleman. The cost of buy-back has been exaggerated. Rebate to ratepayers, the Moreton Bay Regional Council's 55% annual profit share of $79m, gouged from ratepayers. Upgrade all sewerage treatment plants to tertiary grade water discharge, subsequently allowing supply of low cost quality water for recreation, sporting, golf courses and new residential developments for non-drinking purposes. Ensure a fixed works timetable geared to preventative maintenance and replacement of unserviceable piping and equipment, to prevent sewerage flooding in weather events.
THE cost of water via Unitywater is low, but the bulk water cost charged on your account via the State Government bulk water charge is far too high. The council needs to review the rebate subsidy in co-operation with the State Government to reduce it. I see Unitywater should be taken back under council control. We have all heard the absolute nonsense announced by the current council that a buy-back would cost $187m plus compensation.
WATER costs is an interesting choice, in light of statements by the new government. I support the retention of the council's water subsidy and looking for opportunities within the council's control to further reduce the cost to all ratepayers, residents and business owners alike. I believe it is misleading, if not downright dishonest, to make promises that, if elected, neither I nor any other candidate could deliver on, as actions by the state will determine what we can do. What action the new State Government will take, and when, is unclear. However, I will work tirelessly to ensure any benefits are passed on in full to ratepayers.
RATES and associated costs are at the forefront of everyone's mind as the family budget is stretched tighter. A very hot topic, and for someone who has not been privy to this information it is difficult to pass comment. However, I cannot understand how forming a separate entity (even if ownership is shared with the Sunshine Coast Council) and transferring staff from the council to Unitywater has saved any money. From my business perspective it has created more overheads and unnecessary duplication of costs. I cannot guarantee savings, from only seeing the external shell, but I will give 110% commitment to reviewing these costs.
STATE and local governments are bound together with respect to water charges and water assets.The adversarial blame-game approach which was adopted previously must be abandoned. There is no reason water charges, indeed all council charges, should rise above CPI for normal residential use Unfortunately under the current council we have seen these charges rise to ridiculous levels. As a councillor I see it as my job to make their lives easier and reduce the cost of living. This is what I commit to.
I SUPPORT the new State Government's plans to decrease bulk water charges, which will subsequently assist with driving down the cost of water to residents. I would lobby the new government to reinstate the "new sewerage infrastructure" grants available to councils, which would decrease the pressure to fully fund new infrastructure through water and sewerage charges. I would urge my fellow councillors to review the options to take back control of water distribution and retailing, as I believe council has proven it can manage this resource better than the current arrangements and improve customer satisfaction.
NATURALLY water and sewerage charges add to the cost-of-living pressures. The newly elected State Government has committed to a number of changes to how the water industry is run in SEQ. The creation of a single water distribution entity will save on the cost of administration. Extending the term of the repayments for drought-proofing SEQ will allow the bulk water cost to be reduced. I believe councils will once again look at the option of taking water back as part of our core business, as council has a proven record of delivery.
THE major concern for families I have spoken to is the cost of water. Single-income families are struggling with the increased costs of water. The flat-fee structure to some seems inequitable as you may be a single person or a family of eight and you still pay the same fee no matter the amount of water being used. There needs to be a cap on the flat fee. When we have extraordinary profits from Unitywater, why are families struggling? Council is not a profit-driven big business - it is the entity that supports and provides for a community.
THERE is no doubt the water assets being ripped from councils by the former State Government has hurt ratepayers. The new LNP government has committed to returning those assets to their respective councils. I will hold the LNP to account on this commitment and ensure the costly, unnecessary levels of management are removed, including the expensive board of directors. Before Unitywater was created, the council water assets were running, being maintained and expanded without being a burden on the ratepayer. I will fight for the community to ensure we return to a fair deal. Under the former regime, bulk water prices went up (cost of water from the State Government to the local area). I'll be in the middle of it making sure the State Government fixes this.
UNITYWATER is out of the hands of the council at present, but this does not mean that the consumer has no say. Our concerns must be heard. During my extensive doorknocking over the past eight months I have discovered that people are willing to pay for water, but are not happy with the way the water is being charged for. There are questionable areas in the billing process. The unfairness in the way the rebate is distributed between one household and another. It is a debate that needs to be had, whether or not MBRC takes back the control of water, but without the extra cost to the ratepayer.
WATER reform was forced on local government - as was amalgamation - by the now decimated ALP. The current council commissioned a report as to taking back control of water, but found the cost too prohibitive. As mayor I would revisit this issue as I believe any report can be interpreted in any number of ways. Water is a precious commodity and even though our reservoirs are currently healthy there is always a need to be sparing with this precious commodity. If council were to regain control of water I believe our costs would be less than currently charged.
AT THIS time the council does not control Unitywater. It is most important that council gains appointment of at least one person to the Unitywater Board, so it has a voice in support of its 58% ownership. I would investigate the best use of the $27.8m dividend paid to council, as I do not think that its use is optimised to reduce either water charges or general rates. I suggest it may be possible to dissect Unitywater and get water and sewerage management back under council control, without same costing the full $187m quoted. Then council could again control water charges incurred.
Ivan C Hall
THERE has been a total lack of ability to examine all alternative solutions to the problem. First we must identify exactly what the problem is. The public perception is that if Unitywater is disbanded the high level of charges will just disappear. This is, of course, untrue. Unless the State Government changes the wholesale charges for water, this component will remain. I believe councils should determine the level of charges to the residents for water and sewerage. The best solution without cost is for the councils to take control and manage Unitywater. The name of the entity means nothing, if control is in the hands of the new council with the capacity to set charges.
Mayor Allan Sutherland
UNDER the current arrangements for water and sewerage forced on us by Anna Bligh's Labor government, the mayor, and for that matter council, have no say whatsoever over Unitywater's prices. I know only too well the impact the rising cost of living is having on hardworking families and businesses across our region. That's why as mayor I've invested $24 million this year alone to help contain Unitywater's water bills and ease the mounting pressure on household budgets. My council is the only council in Queensland to offer a subsidy to combat rising water costs. I've looked at the extraordinary cost of council taking back water and the bottom line is it was unaffordable and would send rates through the roof. Premier Campbell Newman's plan to hand the delivery of water back to councils is encouraging, but I'm letting him know it's the State Government, not residents, not local businesses, not council, that should be footing the bill to mop up Labor's sewerage and water mess.
THIS is a huge question. There is no quick fix or simple answer. As a water engineer, I have closely followed this emerging crisis and warned relevant authorities well before it unfolded around 2006. I would warn against knee-jerk reactions such as reverting from management by Unitywater/SEQwater back to council without careful consideration. Council management of water supply and sewerage has left a lot to be desired with several serious problems created by council remaining unaddressed. As mayor I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with residents what needs to be done.