water rates

Rifts over rate rises

A number of community members voiced their concern over Council’s proposed rate rises at last Wednesday’s community meeting.

By Lara Pearce

A number of community members voiced their concern over Council’s proposed rate rises at last Wednesday’s community meeting.

Among the most contentious were the water charges, which have already risen from $0.70/kl for the first 450kl in 2005/06 to $2.03/kl in this financial year. Next year, they will be $2.30/kl for the first 600kl used.

The Council says that these fees are necessary to cover the ongoing maintenance costs, which are higher than many neighbouring Councils due to the aging infrastructure and the distances that pipelines have to cover, due to the large distances between Lachlan Shire’s towns.

It also cites the development of a new water treatment plant for Condobolin, which has been costed at $10 million. The Council expects that the NSW Government will contribute $5 million.

“If the State Government contributes more than 50% of the project then there will hopefully be a levelling of water charges,” said John Chapman, Council’s Chief Financial Officer.

Council staff also noted that they are considering introducing a charge on Condobolin’s truck wash so ratepayers would not have to fund this service.

Condobolin nursery owner, Gary Venables, said that by increasing fees, he believes the Council could end up losing money as people will reduce their water usage.

“I consider that Council are walking down a false economy path,” he said. “If they believe that people are going to pay those new fees, I am here to tell that they won’t.”

“I am in a position both privately and business-wise to see that first hand.”

Maxine Staniforth presented a petition from a large number of community members, expressing their concern over the proposed water rates.

Concerns over the tip charges were also expressed, with rural residents noting that they already pay an annual waste management fee and do not have a curb side collection service.

One resident proposed that Council should include a number of free visits to the tip within the annual fee.

Tightening the belt on Lachlan

By Lara Pearce

Lachlan Shire residents are being urged to attend community meetings to discuss the Council’s proposal to stand-alone amidst controversial plans to increase rates in the 2015/16 year.

The Council has less than two weeks left to finalise its proposal to the NSW Government outlining why it should remain a stand-alone Council. The ‘Fit for the Future’ report, which must be completed by all local councils in NSW, is due on 30 June.

The Lachlan Shire Council is holding public meetings in Tottenham, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo. Condobolin’s meeting is scheduled to take place tonight, Wednesday 17 June, at 6pm at the Council Chambers.

The Mayor, Des Manwaring, is urging residents to have their say.

“The process is not a matter of tick and flick or what position the Council or the community wants to take,” he said. “It is up to the Council and the residents of Lachlan to prove we are ‘Fit for the Future’ by 2020 and we are going to have to make changes to remain a stand-alone Council.”

Among the changes flagged by Council are increases to water and sewerage rates. This is in spite of recent community calls to reduce water rates, which have almost tripled in ten years.

Water usage charges for residential users are set to increase from $2.03/kl to $2.20/kl for the first 450kl and from $3.05/kl to $3.30/kl after that starting from 1 July.

Water access charges would also increase by 7% plus $25, while the annual sewerage charges are proposed to increase by 2.5% plus $75.

Council has also announced it is planning on applying for a Special Rate Variation (SRV) allowing it to increase rates by 5% in addition  to the standard rate peg increase of 2.4% for four consecutive years, starting from 1 July 2016.

Other revenue-raisers include: charges for the use of tips and waste facilities; modest increases to rates for Domestic Waste Management of around 2.5%; and the closure of Albert, Fifield and Derriwong tips, to be replaced with a kerbside collection service.

The Council has also indicated that it will not be filling some positions which currently stand vacant.

The Independent Local Government Review Panel has recommended that Lachlan Shire merge with Parkes Council in order to become more economically sustainable – a suggestion which has met with widespread community backlash.

“Previous community consultation overwhelmingly wanted Lachlan to remain a stand-alone Council,” the Mayor noted.

“At these upcoming community meetings, input will assist in determining an appropriate response for ‘Fit for the Future’.”

Once the ‘Fit for the Future’ report is submitted, the NSW Government’s independent expert panel will review the submissions and make its final recommendations to the state government in a report by 16 October.

Premier Mike Baird will then make the final decision.

Gardeners forecast “dust bowl” town

Lachlan Shire Council water users are being hit with higher water charges than any other nearby Local Government Area, putting pressure on many struggling to pay their bills.

• Local gardener and Secretary of the Condobolin Garden and Floral Art Group, Maxine Staniforth, has always taken pride in her rose gardens, which feature in the biennial Condobolin Garden Festival. However, she has now replaced 12 of her white ice berg roses in her backyard with water-conserving seaside daisies due to Lachlan Shire’s high water rates. LP

By Lara Pearce

Lachlan Shire Council water users are being hit with higher water charges than any other nearby Local Government Area, putting pressure on many struggling to pay their bills.

Many local gardeners say they cannot sustain their gardens at the current water rates, which currently stand at $2.05 per kilolitre for the first 400KL and $3.05 per kilolitre after that.

This is more than double the rate charged by Forbes Shire Council of $0.90 per kilolitre and 40 cents a kilolitre more than Parkes, which charges $1.65 a kilolitre.

Maxine Staniforth, who is the Secretary of the Condobolin Garden and Floral Art Group, believes that much more is at stake than just the flowers themselves. She sees the maintenance of attractive lawns, parks and community gathering places as crucial to Condobolin’s social and economic wellbeing.

“If we don’t get the water rates down, that will be it and the town will be a dust bowl,” she said. “We won’t attract businesses. Young people, teachers – they won’t want to come here.”

“At the Anglican Church, we have flower shows – they will be a thing of the past. We need these community events in a small town. Otherwise we don’t get together.”

As Chief Steward of the Cut Flowers and Floral Art exhibit at the annual Condobolin Show, Mrs Staniforth is also concerned with the decreasing number of entries the exhibit has seen in the past two years.

“The flowers have always been a favourite exhibit,” she said. “What is going to happen to the floral art? It will be gone.”

Herself an avid gardener, Mrs Staniforth has pulled out many of the water-hungry roses in her own garden to keep her water bills down.

“It is a shame because they always were a feature,” she said, “but people are not willing to pay $1,000 a quarter to have a greener garden.”

Lifelong resident of Condobolin, Conway Seymour, is also concerned about the impact on the town if people neglect their lawns and gardens.

“It will give people a bad impression of the town,” he said. “There will be less people inclined to buy in Condobolin and establish businesses in Condobolin. If you compare it with a town like Forbes, which has got good water rates, the town is a much lusher town.”

He has put bark over much of his own lawn to cut back on water costs.

“I have halved my water consumption overall and I am still paying fairly big bills,” he said.

Biddy Brady moved from a property into town three years ago and has worked hard to get her grass to grow and beautify her garden.

She had been paying around $200 a quarter for water, but the past two water bills saw this skyrocket to around $1,000.

“For the price of water to rise so dramatically without any warning, it was a shock,” she said.

She says she cannot afford to continue to pay such a high price for water.

“Do you let your lawns die? Do you let Condobolin become a dusty, rusty town? Or do you pay exorbitant prices? Then if you do that, you have to cut down on your living expenses – food and so on. It is very sad.”

Mrs Brady asked to have her bill explained to her by the Council when she paid her last bill last Thursday, 28 June, and was told someone would be in touch but as of Tuesday morning had not heard back.

When contacted by the Argus, the General Manager of the Lachlan Shire Council Robert Hunt said that the Council had to set water prices at the current rate to cover their water infrastructure costs.

“We have a $10 million project to replace the water treatment plant. Because we have to replace that, we have to increase our usage charges,” he said.

“We have to get a return on our assets, because [the State Government] wants every Council to.”

He notes that if the Council is unable to make a profit from its water charges, it risks having the State Government remove control of the water and sewerage works from Council and putting it in the hands of a county council.

Mr Hunt said that the new plant would offer a better standard of drinking water for the community and that it was possible that the Council would be able to reduce water rates once the water plant had been built.

“It will depend on the other towns and what other infrastructure needs upgrading,” he said.

The State Government mandates that 75% of the income from water rates be from usage charges, with the remainder coming from access charges.

“If we have a really wet year and people don’t use that water, we don’t get the income in,” Mr Hunt said. “I would rather have a 50% user charge, but it is set by the State Government.”

“The whole idea of this by the State Government to bump up the user charge is to conserve water.”

Mrs Staniforth believes that water restrictions should be used to encourage water conservation, rather than rate hikes.

“I feel that the Council has failed in its duty of care to their responsible rate payers, who feel very, very strongly about their community,” she said. “They are making money out of our excess water bills.”

“I care very much about our community. I have lived here for fifty years, have no intention of moving and I hate to see the general appearance of the town degenerating so quickly.”

Mrs Staniforth plans to get a community petition together and hold a community meeting in hopes of getting the water charges reduced.

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