Wise de­ci­sion on wa­ter rates con­tro­versy

Townsville Bulletin - - Voice Of The North -

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.

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