IT was standing room only at the Soldiers Memorial Hall last Thursday when Tenterfield Shire’s general Manager Lotta Jackson and program manager Dave Stewart attended a public meeting to discuss council's current waste management strategies.
Chairman Peter Robinson from the Ratepayer's Association opened the meeting by pointing out the shire's level of rating was comparatively low, and that current charges at the transfer station were very much lower than those at similar sized councils in other areas.
However the introduction of transfer station fees on top of the waste management charge on all properties throughout the shire has caused widespread resentment, and the meeting was called to clarify the present economic problems and to answer questions from residents.
Ms Jackson began by outlining council's vision in relation to sustaining our environment while establishing and developing a prosperous shire, and listed the actions needed to achieve this, including "to manage, protect, enhance and conserve the natural environment in a sustainable manner, and to promote waste minimisation and sustainable waste disposal".
Questions were then invited, and the most common questions were:
Q: Why was no notice given of the new charges?
A: The proposed charges had been outlined by Ms Jackson during presentations of the draft Operational Plan at eight locations throughout the Shire, including Tenterfield, during the public exhibition period so that the public could present their views on the proposed new charges. However, the meeting when Councillors approved the charges was on July 25th, too late to include in the local paper that week. The General Manager apologised for not providing adequate publicity, and has proposed that in future such changes will be publicised by a letter drop to all residents across the shire.
Q: Why are we now having to pay both a waste management charge on all shire assessments plus transfer station fees, as well as a service charge for the pick-up service for wheelie bins?
A: The waste management charge covers the costs of waste transfer stations, waste transport, and land fill management - a major expense, especially with recent far more rigourous environmental protection legislation. The transfer station fees are to cover the costs of waste taken to the transfer station, but the General Manager stressed that a major consideration is the urgent need to reduce landfill - we have to avoid the major expense of opening a new landfill site if at all possible. By allowing free dumping of recyclable waste and a low charge for partly-recycled waste, it is hoped that the volume of waste going into landfill will be greatly reduced.
In fact we are obliged to reduce our landfill volume by half within the next four years, and to one tenth of the present volume by 2022, so we really need to start now.
Q: Why do we need to increase charges?
A: Revenue, including from recycling (mainly metal), is $1,289,152, expenditure is $1,446,916, so waste management is currently running at an annual deficit of $157,764. This is the only Council service which is running at a loss, but money cannot be transferred from other services to make up the loss, the service has to pay its own way. A loan of $1.25 million has been taken out to cover major capital expenditure, and Ms. Jackson stated that such a loan has been found to be the most economically responsible way of meeting these exceptional expenses.
Q: Is it fair that multiple properties owned by a single owner, and many of which are un-occupied, should all have pay the $100 assessment charge?
A: No charging system can be completely fair to everyone; if these charges are dropped, the necessary revenue must be raised somehow, so the level of charges will have to be raised for everyone else. However owners may amalgamate adjoining properties into one assessment, and could if desired join properties that are rated in the same category into one assessment, thus qualifying for a single charge.
Q: Is there a fairer way to charge loads than by vehicle?
A: A weighbridge would be good in the long term, but would involve staffing expenses and would cost $80,000 to purchase. Coucil would welcome any suggestions of a better charging system.
Q: What are the current restraints on re-cycling?
A: Staff have been tied up with dealing with the requirements of EPA notices and other urgent matters. However Council is now seeking quotes and pursuing the most practical and economical way of recycling and reducing landfill. Factors to consider include transport costs to major centres, and the costs to residents for curb-side recycling facilities.
Q: Will not the transfer station fees tempt people to dump illegally in other locations, as has happened before?
A: The General Manager considered such a response to be very antisocial, and encouraged anyone who sees this happening to report the culprit to Council.
Q: With the likely need to increase staff numbers at the transfer station to deal with fee collection as well as supervise the dumping, and also with the likely significant reduction in refuse being presented, will the transfer station fee system end up running at a loss, thus adding to expenditure?
A: To remove the fee system would reduce the incentive to recycle and thus not reduce our landfill, which would be considered as a retrograde step. However this would be up to the councillors to consider and discuss, and would depend on their input.
Many people expressed the feeling that ratepayers are now having to pay for past management decisions which have led to the present deficits, and a member of the audience presented a series of figures from Council's budget reports which suggested that if Council could make efficiency savings of about 7%, this would go a long way towards correcting the current financial shortfall. In other words, residents will have to pay increased charges, for instance to initiate effective recycling systems, but Council also should seek efficiencies which would reduce the current deficit.
Some of those present expressed resentment that outlying communities such as Drake feel at a disadvantage as recipients of Council services, but in general the main consensus at the meeting seemed to be that we all have a responsibility for improved management of our waste, including effective recycling, and if both Council and all residents work to manage waste better the present unsatisfactory situation can be rectified.