Rural residents ‘get it in the neck’ as water charges double
GYMPIE residents not connected to town water are about to feel financial pain, with the cost of water from the region’s fill stations and stand pipes to be almost doubled.
From February 1, next year the cost of a kilolitre of water will jump from $2.90 to $5.50 at the stations after the hike was endorsed by councillors at this week’s general meeting.
The vote was not without dissent. Deputy Mayor Hilary Smerdon and councillor Warren Polley voted against the change.
Mr Smerdon said he was worried rural residents were going to “get it in the neck again”.
It was not an unjustified fear; Stolzenberg Water Carriers’ owner Rodney Payne said yesterday carriers were “gobsmacked” over the increase and how it would affect customers.
This increase meant the cost per KL had jumped from $2.40 to about $5.50 in less than a year.
“How do you push that on to the customer?” Mr Payne said.
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He said he did not want to fire away at the council but said it was important customers knew the price increase ”was not the water carriers’ fault”.
“This is going to be hard to explain to the customers.”
Staff from the council’s water branch said there were multiple reasons the increase was needed, including financial sustainability, the need to manage conservation, and to stop Gympie’s water from leaking out to other council areas.
The existing costs were also considerably lower than in other council areas: Unity Water charges $4.46 per KL at its standpipes; prices on the Fraser Coast sit at $5.10 per KL; in Bundaberg the cost is $5.60; and at Mackay standpipe users pay $3.44.
Staff said out of town water carriers were taking advantage of the region’s cheaper fees, especially at Imbil.
Acting chief financial officer David Lewis said “about 40 per cent” of the water was ”going outside the network”.
And there was the upcoming costs, too, and the need for the council to invest in its future infrastructure to ensure the sustainability of its water services.
This was advised by the Queensland Audit Office.
“It’s not just about increasing prices because of CPIs or because that’s fair for the customers; it’s about understanding your business and what is (financially) sustainable,” staff said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Mayor Glen Hartwig said the council needed to look ahead at what costs were looming.
“If we’re not putting aside the pennies now in preparation for an expense we know is going to happen, we’ll end up being caught short in the future,” he said.
Councillor Dan Stewart agreed, pointing out that the existing model had left the council in a hole.
”We’re already borrowing money we shouldn’t be borrowing for our water business unit,” Mr Stewart said.
“That’s why we need to increase it; even now we can’t pay for what we need to pay into our water business.”
Staff said this was critical given much necessary future infrastructure investments for the rapidly growing region.
“If we increase prices we get about $500,000 in revenue. That will pay for those emergency (works) we have to do to keep that infrastructure running for the whole community.”
Staff said a full plan to inform the community about the changes was ready to be rolled out.