Tenterfield Shire Council has backpedalled on its move to replace free waste vouchers with designated free waste weeks, following a backlash and a realisation of the costs involved.
After spirited debate amongst councillors at the August meeting on options ranging from no free waste disposal at all to standing behind its original decision, councillors decided to cancel the free waste week set for January, send all ratepayers two vouchers valid for the remainder of this financial year, and revert to the old system from July 1.
While only a handful of complaints were officially received by council, councillors reported a strong pushback on the change to free waste weeks, with all complainants preferring the old system.
Councillor Bronwyn Petrie said the issue of free waste disposal being restricted to a week was exacerbated by the drought, with many rural property owners too busy feeding stock to bring in their waste. Ratepayers preferred to choose their own time to take their rubbish to the tip for free even if it was only on three occasions, in contrast to making multiple trips to town to take advantage of a week-long tip fest.
This disappointment coupled with the cost of having additional staff and plant on hand to deal with the condensed tip business put free waste week in a poor light.
“It was a failed exercise, given the extra cost,” Cr Bronwyn Petrie said.
“Not 100 per cent of people use the vouchers, but they’re important to those who do.”
Cr John Macnish concurred with Cr Petrie’s assessment of the free waste week.
“As a cost-saving exercise, I think it was a disaster,” he said.
The vouchers were originally introduced alongside new tip fees at Sunnyside Transfer Station to ease consumers into the user-pays system. They have since become expected despite a take-up of less than 30 per cent last year.
Cr Tom Peters said the vouchers are particularly appreciated by rural ratepayers who perceive they get nothing in return for the waste levy fee on their rates.
Cr Gary Verri wants to go a step further and have council fully embrace the user-pays approach, abolishing the current waste levy and increasing kerbside collection fees and tip fees.
“It was a 12-month waste levy and it’s now more like 12 years,” he said.
“That’s a lot of money sucked out of the community.
“In Liston/Legume during free waste week there was virtually nothing, as people have learned what to recycle. Vouchers and free waste weeks don’t encourage this.”
Cr Don Forbes countered that he was a great believer in the user-pays system, but in some cases it can’t be.
Despite the additional cost of $7300 to now print and post vouchers for this year since the rates notices have already been sent, this was deemed preferable to the $15,161 incurred in additional labour and plant costs to operate a free waste week.
Councillor Gary Verri’s assertion that no free waste capabilities be offered was given merit by comments by council’s finance manager Paul Della that the balance of council’s Waste Reserve would be reduced to $86,329 by the end of this financial year. The additional cost and foregone revenue of either the voucher or free week schemes would reduce this figure even further.
“... and does not assist in setting council up for its future waste needs,” Mr Della said.
“Preliminary projections indicate that council will need to find $3.3 million to fund waste requirements in 2012/22.
“If the waste-to-energy project comes to fruition, there may be a reduced need for landfill and council could save or even make money in this area, but at the moment council needs to plan based on existing needs.”