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Monday
Apr112011

Wastewater Review (2)

The long delayed report that has been prepared by Finance Controller Steve Baker covers all the options that were set out in the 30 June Motion, and appears to place them fairly in context. Use the link in the previous post to see the report content.

It remains a mystery as to why staff apparently continue to maintain that the inclusion of the provision for trade waste is required in any final deliberation in order to comply with the LGA requirements. This was and remains the basis of the disagreement with a majority of members of the previous Council who were adamant that uniform domestic wastewater charging would always remain in contention unless it was dealt with separately.

It was this very issue that led up to the walk-out by the same group in May 2010 after a series of events that appeared to have been contrived by those opposed to any independent review. The resultant biased, if not hysterical publicity reflected very badly on those involved, including myself - many rate-payers being unable to grasp the political machinations that lay behind the frustration and subsequent actions,  and simply took the view that the Council should have been able to 'sort it out'.

The fact  that the review motion passed at the subsequent meeting in the absence of a trade waste provision that had previously nullified a critical vote under conflict of interest provisions, and under the threat of a further walk-out generally went unnoticed.

The much feared East/West divide at Council lay at the heart of the issue from the inception of the 'One District' policy in 2001. It remains the same irritant today even if our new Councillors turn a blind eye by resolving to put the issue to one side by sending it to the Triennial Finance and Revenue Review later this year. The majority of the previous Council endeavoured to avoid this course because of the danger of the issue being submerged with all the horse trading that generally takes place within this major review.

It would not be surprising were the current Council to take this course - they have enough problems on their plate without this, and the complexity of the wastewater issue is enough to frighten even the most committed. But it will be interesting to see whether there it is debated on 13 April, or whether we will again only see a decision in open Council to ignore or defer the report, it having already been workshopped at length. This would be consistent with current practice.    

With that in mind, a cursory examination of the report would seem to favour the second option (50:50 apportionment of capital and operating costs between district and scheme). This methodology has the advantage of ensuring that those communities demanding a higher level of service than 'normal' will pay a penalty through the 'capital' charge. As an example, Whangamata demanded the more expensive forestry disposal, and Pauanui and now Whitianga requested similarly expensive disposal on golf courses and streetscapes towards which they should be required to make a contribution.

The only scheme that could be considered 'unaffordable' under Option 2 may be Oamaru Bay with less than 100 connections, and an anticipated initial charge of $1,238 - later $1,937. An alternative special arrangement could easily be made in this case in order to preserve the integrity of the overall scheme. No other Council of comparable size faces the problem of operating eleven plants in this manner, and it is time for some imagination and resolve to be applied in dealing with the issue, particularly now that the individual plant operating costs are available. 

The argument that a uniform district charge for wastewater is justifiable on the basis that it all the same product once it enters the waste stream ignores the fact that both the capital and the operational costs of each plant vary greatly as revealed in this report. The imposition of this new arrangement would represent a major step towards the user pay principle that has been so widely espoused throughout the community over a long period, and bring about long overdue wastewater rating equity.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (1)

It would be nieve of Concil to think that any proposal that offers ME cheaper rates would not be popular.

April 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpeter feran

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