Wise decision on water rates controversy
THE Townsville City Council has averted an electoral bloodbath at the next local government poll by yesterday reversing its controversial new water rates policy. The council, from July 1, will give ratepayers the option of going back to the old pricing regime, or sticking with the two-tariff system, which has caused so much community angst. With most people likely to opt for the old water pricing policy, ratepayers can expect about $ 17 million to go back into their pockets. For the people of Townsville, this is a victory for fairness and common sense. Clearly, ratepayers saw the new water pricing scheme as a money grab. The $ 454 annual connection fee guaranteed the council a set amount, close to $ 35 million, before householders even turned on a tap. It meant the water bills for most users, particularly the frugal, went up significantly. When the first of the water bills started going out last year, the community backlash was palpable, resulting in a public meeting attended by hundreds of upset ratepayers. Mayor Les Tyrell admitted yesterday that the resident anger had fuelled the policy backflip, and he needed to get back to running the city in preparation for the next financial year. He said the council would ‘‘ follow the wishes of the community and put forward a pricing implementation plan that mirrors the system in place prior to this year.’’ It is unclear whether council will now go back to half yearly bills, instead of the quarterly premiums, which have added to the ratepayer concern. It is important to recognise that the council has reacted positively to ratepayer feedback. This will cost it a lot of revenue and it now faces the difficult task of finding that money elsewhere. But the fundamental responsibility of any local government authority is to look after its ratepayers, and reflect the community’s views. In many ways, this council does a splendid job looking after its people. The city has terrific facilities and we enjoy a lifestyle that is second to none. Council’s leadership during Cyclone Yasi was exemplary. However, ratepayers are less than forgiving when they feel they are being unfairly treated, or even worse, not getting value for money. Clearly, this council misread the public mood on water rates. It lost the PR war – badly. Now that it has corrected a poor original decision, it must get on with the job of keeping Townsville humming along as the most robust regional economy in the country. There is 12 months to the next election. All is not lost for Team Tyrell if it can learn from this mistake.