Council backflips on 'poo tax'

A VIRTUAL “poo tax” that has caused a veritable stink across the Tamworth Regional Council area has been watered down in the wake of ratepayer anger.

The council had moved to modify the planned new residential rate and paid inspection fees program so it will now only apply to high- and medium-risk home owners with on-site sewerage systems.

The council last week moved to quell the backlash over a “poo tax” that would’ve included a base licence or approval fee, but with inspection fees of $85 and subsequent $65 fees set into the guidelines.

The announcement of the new licensing system

created vocal opposition and instant criticism of the council, for what many saw as a simple cash-grab rather than a new health standards checklist.

One Leader reader referred to is as the “poo tax for nothing”.

“In 20 years in council I’ve never had such flack from ratepayers,” Tamworth acting mayor Russell Webb said.

And last week the council announced that after discussions it had clarified the new rules – and most people, low-risk owners of septic tanks or registered aerated sewer recycling systems will not be hit by the inspection fees at all.

Under the scheme set out in a council circular to ratepayers last week, everyone will pay a flat fee of $10 for a virtual licence to operate.

It applies to about 7000 home owners who have on-site sewerage systems, like septic tanks and more modern sewage-recycling systems, on their properties.

The council had flagged that under a new inspection regime and to meet existing state government regulations, they would introduce a mandatory inspection fee of $85 a first visit and $65 for a subsequent visit, obviously where the first inspection revealed some health or environmental issues that needed fixing.

It was the inspection fees that brought the biggest uproar – but there are plenty who reckon 

they shouldn’t be charged the one-off $10 fee either.

“Yes, it’s created a big stink, it has given everybody the s***s,” acting mayor Russell Webb admitted.

“But there has to be some charge but I can say now that most people, the low-risk owners, will not be subject to that $85 inspection fee service cost at all.”

Cr Webb said most owners of septic systems came into the low-risk category.

He said high- and medium-risk systems were generally those near to or having access to watercourses or other areas where they presented a health or pollution risk.

Cr Webb has admitted that inspection fees have previously applied to higher risk properties but having to comply fully with government requirements means they have to set the $10 cost as a licence fee, to cover the administrative cost of setting up a database of on-site sewerage properties.

The acting mayor admitted that TRC does not have a full record of all those with those systems.

Cr Webb denies the council has done a backflip over the sewerage issue but he does admit there has been a clarification of what was initially intended.

He said inspections of 7000 systems, and the requisite fee cost, would have also been a numerical and practical impossibility.

Under the revised operating schedule, some low-risk properties will be inspected at random – but they will not be charged.

Under the Local Government Act, the council has to act to minimise pollution from properties where such systems are and provide homeowners of unsewered properties with advice and information.

“And we will do that with the help of the $10 approval fee,” Cr Webb said.

He admitted that the council had not been as diligent or vigilant as other councils had, who introduced fees after 1998, and that it needed now to police the guidelines more closely and comply with state government monitoring guidelines.

“The new system is not just about ensuring council complies with the legislation, it is about ensuring owners of on-site sewerage management systems are operating their systems legally and with the appropriate approvals,” Cr Webb said.

The $10 fee comes into operation with the second rates instalment notices issued by TRC, due in November.

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