Saturday, 22 October 2011

Water a Basic Human Right or a Saleable Commodity?

by Geraldine Tait

The words Council Controlled Company do not usually create fear and
trepidation but when applied to our water and waste systems they make
me decidedly nervous.
A recent report in the Otago Daily Times said that millions of dollars
could be saved by moving water and waste to a CCC. We are already
paying a pretty big fee in our rates for these services and we are
well aware that there is a lot of pressure on the existing CCCs to pay
a sizable dividend to council each year. Water users in Auckland no
longer just pay the cost of supplying that water but their council has
added a surcharge which it uses to help pay for other expenses such as
roads. Personally I don't wish to contribute to a profit margin for a
CCC to help pay off the stadium debt. I am more than happy for City
Forests and other CCCs to be run as profit-making businesses but not
water and waste.
There are tax advantages in moving services to a CCC structure but
there are huge losses for our community. As citizens we would have no
direct input as to how they are run and councillors could not make
decisions about management of the services. Imagine if the libraries
became a CCC. The council could have a contract with the Library CCC
saying that they were to make library books available to the citizens
of Dunedin. How the Library CCC goes about doing this would be totally
out of the control of the councillors. If the CCC decided to reduce
the number of libraries, or the opening hours of libraries, or the
number of books available or the cost of borrowing a book, this would
be just too bad and complaining to the councillors or voting them out
at the next election would have no effect on the management of our
libraries.
You may have faith that a Water and Waste CCC would deliver the same
service as the council department has been doing but there are some
very detrimental changes that may result.
The council has looked at water metering in the past and with a CCC
this is pretty likely to be introduced. At the moment households use
however much water they need and generally there is enough to go
around except during very dry spells when some restrictions on outdoor
water use are instigated. Water metering means the more you use the
more you pay, that sounds fair but it disadvantages families and could
impact on people who have a garden. If you grow your own vegetables
you will know that it can take quite a lot of water over the summer to
keep plants happy.
It is also not a very big step from a CCC to total privatization, the
Dunedin City Council just sold Citybus, they did not have to consult
the community or give any explanation other than that it was losing
money.
Another likely outcome of a CCC is that every household will get a
separate water and waste bill just like a power bill. So people who
are presently renting will get a water and waste bill each month from
the CCC on top of their usual rent. I'd be really surprised if
landlords gave a rent discount to tenants because the landlords didn't
have to pay water charges as part of their rates any more.
It is also likely that staff would be fired to reduce costs. I would
not like to see our water guys made redundant because I think this
will to lead to a poorer service especially after hours or when there
is an emergency.
So when you read about a Water and Waste CCC and what a great thing it
will be, think again, we have a lot to lose. After all we have paid a
huge amount through our rates to get the major upgrades done. We need
to keep control and ownership of these essential assets.

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Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū
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