Southside residents face big cost for sewerage scheme
IF SOUTHSIDE’S long-awaited sewerage system is finally delivered, does Gympie Regional Council have to foot the whole bill?
This is the question councillors grappled with yesterday as the need for a final decision on whether to finish the $21m scheme looms large.
Yesterday the debate centred on a simple question: is it fair for Southside residents to get the final $15m works for free?
This was revealed to be the final cost to finish the last nine stages of the scheme, $9m more than was spent completing stages three through seven of the project before it stalled in 2018.
Councillors were presented with five options to finish it off: foot the entire bill itself; require contribution from property owners (capped at $5000); have property owners cover the cost of installation on their own land; finish the scheme at cost to the council but introduce a “benefited area charge” for properties to keep the program cost-neutral for ratepayers; and flush the scheme entirely.
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Introducing the “benefited area scheme” was the only option where the scheme pays for itself, in all other options the council would be out of pocket between $6.4m and $9.8m.
Finishing the scheme would also increase the burden on the council’s financials: the staff report said the council would need to budget $10.8m annually for water and sewerage moving forward, while in the past three years the average spend was $6m.
Borrowing was possible, too.
Mary Valley councillor Bob Fredman adamantly opposed finishing the scheme without help from the affected landholders.
He said doing so would be unfair to the majority of Gympie’s ratepayers.
“It’s a very expensive program for a very small number of people,” Mr Fredman said.
“How many ratepayers benefit?”
A big sticking point were promises made by previous councils that it would foot the whole bill.
Deputy Mayor Hilary Smerdon asked Mr Fredman how such a “generous proposal” had eventuated.
Mr Fredman, who was on the council’s staff at the time of the scheme’s inception, said council paying every cent of the installation was not recommended by the staff.
“It was a council decision at the time, not a staff decision.”