Mount Isa City Council charges households almost double for water

LAKE MOONDARRA: Mount Isa's primary water source, which as of Monday was at 66.9 per cent capacity. The Mount Isa Water Board is trustee of the lake. Photo: Chris Burns
LAKE MOONDARRA: Mount Isa's primary water source, which as of Monday was at 66.9 per cent capacity. The Mount Isa Water Board is trustee of the lake. Photo: Chris Burns

The Mount Isa City Council is charging residents almost twice as much for the water it buys from the water board, according to figures presented by former deputy mayor Brett Peterson.  

The Mount Isa Water Board charged the council $9.05 million for the town’s water in the 2014-15 financial year, according to the board’s financial statements. 

Yet the council received $17m in water rates the same financial year, which includes $924,000 in excess water charges to penalise those that overused their allocated amount. 

Former deputy mayor Brett Peterson, who represented the previous council as a water board representative, said he “respected” additional costs the council had for necessary water infrastructure. However, the council also benefited from half of the board’s tax dividend, he said. Mr Peterson recommended the council adjust charges so ratepayers pay for the amount households use, encouraging them to save water. 

Former deputy mayor and water board representative Brett Peterson.

Former deputy mayor and water board representative Brett Peterson.

An investigation into a different method of water charges had been pushed by Mr Peterson near the end of the last council term – but it failed to get the support of other councillors. He said each average household was charged for 900 kilolitres of water a year. 

“On the residential side over 60 per cent of Mount Isa’s population didn’t use 450 KL of water a year, in 2015-16,” he said. On this basis the average household was charged $1616 a year. But assuming it only used 450 KL a year then it was being overcharged $808. Mount Isa mayor Joyce McCulloch said water charges were levied to recover the cost of infrastructure and operations of the council’s water supply network. 

“I have only been in the position of mayor for a short time, so I have a lot of items on my to-do list, this is one of them, and the process has already begun,” she said.

“The council will not sit idle on issues such as this. After many years of no changes in this area, this council is investigating alternative fee structures to ensure we are using the most equitable method for our ratepayers.” 

Cr McCulloch said a consultant was recently engaged to conduct a detailed review of water rates, and to recommend the best water usage system for residents.

Mount Isa mayor Joyce McCulloch.

Mount Isa mayor Joyce McCulloch.

“As a resident, Mr Peterson has every right to raise this issue, but nothing has changed since he was a councillor, and I question why he did nothing about it in his 12 years on council if he has these sorts of concerns,” she said. 

As deputy mayor Mr Peterson moved the motion about investigating water rates in a council meeting on December 14, 2015, near the end of the McGrady term. 

“I would like to move a motion that the CEO furbish the council with a report on an alternative water charge structure at a workshop meeting on the 20th of January, 2016,” Mr Peterson had moved.  As with later similar attempts his motion was defeated. 

That motion was seconded by Cr Jean Ferris but Anne Seymour, Kim Coghlan, George Fortune and Joyce McCulloch stood against it. 

Cr McCulloch, who then held the finance portfolio as a councillor, said shortly after that meeting: “I would have supported it, I just want a report on the fors and against”.

“The Mount Isa City Council has not been set up to give accurate readings on water, it’s done on an average.”

She said then that the council was developing more accurate water readings due to be completed within 18 months. 

“Until we get an accurate reading how can we tell the consumer it’s accurate?” Cr McCulloch said at the time.