Council includes farmer water fees in 2021/22 Draft Fees and Charges

Coffs Harbour City councillors were recently split over a decision to include reclaimed water fees for farmers within Council’s 2021/22 Fees and Charges. Photo: Emma Darbin.

 

MUCH debate ensued among Coffs Harbour City councillors over the inclusion of reclaimed water fees for local agricultural farmers in Council’s Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges at Council’s latest ordinary meeting.

The Recycled Water Consumption Charges are 20 cents per kilolitre of recycled water up to one’s allocated supply volume, $2 per kilolitre for excess use of one’s allocated supply volume, and a Recycled Water Access and Licensing Charge of $447 per year.

Council is planning to introduce the fees as part of its Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges which are now on public exhibition along with Council’s Draft 2012-2022 Delivery Program (Year 5), Draft 2021/22 Operational Plan, and Draft 2021/22 Delivery Program Budgets.

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Cr Sally Townley called on community members to look through Council’s Draft plans, Budgets, and Fees and Charges for the coming financial year.

“I fervently hope that as many members of the community have the opportunity to look through these plans and these budgets and these fees and charges and get an idea of what Council is proposing to carry forward into this year of extra time that we’ve been sentenced with,” Cr Townley stated at Council’s ordinary meeting on Thursday 13 May.

“Have a good look at the Budget, and please make submissions.”

Cr Paul Amos tried to get an amendment passed at the Council meeting to amend Council’s Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges to exclude the metered charge for reclaimed water usage for local agricultural farmers.

“It was a contentious fee that we put on earlier in the year and it relates to the 34 farmers in Hearnes Lake area,” Cr Amos said.

“This is a fee to charge them for their irrigation water, it’s reclaimed water, so I’m proposing here that we don’t actually charge them for their water.

“They’re isolated in this instance, they’re targeted with a very specific charge and I do not think it’s going to achieve anything with regards to enhancing the environment; we’re not going to make a lot of money out of it; I see it as fairly pointless.”

Cr Amos called on Council to remember that it was Council who approached local farmers to “help us out to actually disperse some of this extra water many many years ago”.

“They actually helped us out initially, that’s another factor to think of here,” Cr Amos affirmed.

Cr Michael Adendorff supported the removal of the reclaimed water fees from Council’s Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges and said not to do so would be “unconscionable”.

“We are effectively singling out a group of people and lumping blame on them for a certain outcome where we’ve had a major part to play,” Cr Adendorff said.

“This amendment is the right thing to do.”

Cr Tegan Swan also supported removal of the reclaimed water fees.

“I’ve taken some time recently to meet and engage with people impacted by this suggestion,” Cr Swan said.
“Currently what’s in place is very prohibitive, it appears to be unfair.

“I feel that there’s so much more that we need to do in this space.”

Cr Sally Townley, however, spoke against the amendment to remove the fee and stated that water was a public resource that needed to “be treated with respect” and monitored.

“One of the underlying objectives of putting this charge on was to collect some money that we can use for a monitoring program,” Cr Townley argued.

“We’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on water quality monitoring studies relating to intensive planned agriculture.

“Every single study without exception has come back saying there is massive problems; heavy metals, pesticides, turbidity, you name it, all kinds of pollution in our waterways.”

Cr George Cecato questioned whether the charge will help stop the amount of water that is being wasted.

“At the moment it’s a free tap and it’s open and water was physically wasted and allowed to get into the lake,” Cr Cecato stated.

Council currently has three wastewater treatment plants in the region which supply local agricultural farmers with reclaimed/recycled water.

The amendment was voted on by councillors, with three votes for the amendment and three votes against the amendment, enabling Coffs Harbour City Mayor Denise Knight to use her casting vote to vote against the amendment.

Crs Tegan Swan, Paul Amos and Michael Adendorff voted to remove the reclaimed water fees for farmers, and Crs Sally Townley, Denise Knight and George Cecato voted to keep the reclaimed water charges within Council’s Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges document.

Cr Keith Rhoades declared a conflict of interest in the issue and took no part in the discussion or voting, and Cr John Arkan was absent from the Council meeting.

The 2021/22 Fees and Charges document details Council’s proposed fees associated with service delivery and administrative costs over the financial year.

The Draft 2021/22 Fees and Charges, along with Council’s Draft 2017-2022 Delivery Program (Year 5), Draft 2021/22 Operational Plan, and Draft 2021/22 Delivery Program Budgets are currently on public exhibition until Friday 11 June and can be viewed on the ‘Have Your Say’ page on Council’s website at

https://haveyoursay.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au/.

A further report will be brought back to Council following the public exhibition process prior to adopting the final Delivery Program, Operational Plan, Delivery Program Budgets and Fees and Charges documents by 30 June.

 

By Emma DARBIN

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