• Tony Bosworth

Council communications fail on pump-out sees many residents miss out on survey

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Certain to be a hot council election issue – all Hawkesbury council seats are up for grabs on December 4 – the issues around sewage pump-out are not going away, yet Hawkesbury Council is still not engaging fully with residents or coming up with any solutions.

While the Council has just launched a very brief online survey, they are not contacting everyone with pump-out, and not only that, they are contacting some who do not even have the system, so any results could be skewed.

We have had several readers contact us wondering why they have not received details about the online survey.

Others have contacted us wondering why they have received the email inviting them to take part in the survey when they don’t have pump-out.

It has been left up to residents to spread the message on Facebook – a social media platform not all use - and as we see today (Tuesday) a service which is not available due to a massive global outage.

Additionally, community Facebook pages are not always public so people have to be a member of the group to see posts – it means some residents will be left out of the digital loop.

Bowen Mountain resident Terrie Agnew told the Post, “everyone on pump-out should have the opportunity to contribute. Sadly this isn’t the case”.

There has been no leaflet drop or letter to residents who may not be online or may not use social media – perhaps that’s not too surprising given online is now Council’s preferred means of communication with residents, following the adoption of the new Hawkesbury Council Communication and Engagement Strategy this last week (we’ll have a separate story up on that very soon).

Residents who have pump-out – just over 700 homes and businesses in the Hawkesbury - are being slugged as much as $500 a month for a home on a 600 square block, for example, through a combination of Council rates and pump out costs which comes along in our Council rates bills.

Although pump out costs are ‘charges’, and not part of the rates as such (rates are based on land valuations), residents receive just the one annual or quarterly bill from Hawkesbury Council with all fees included. The end result is a hefty bill.

Back in August 2020, Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett attempted to get the issue discussed at Council but her call for

councillors to hold an online Q&A session – a virtual town hall meeting, if you like - to assist the public with understanding the issues surrounding so-called sullage pump out was voted down by Liberal and Labor councillors, says the Deputy Mayor.

“Disappointingly, the Liberal-Labor coalition disagreed with providing a forum for the community to be heard,” said the Deputy Mayor on Facebook after the Council meeting last year.

“They seemed to think that yet another brochure would suffice. But I know you have all received brochures in the past, and I know from speaking to many people that these do not necessarily address your specific questions,” said the Deputy Mayor.

Labor councillor Amanda Kotlash put up a Motion almost 18 months ago to seek more information on pump-out and alternatives and that report has still not surfaced, despite her telling us several months ago it was due in June or July.

We asked Cllr Kotlash what the situation is with the report and when she last chased it up, but we have not received a reply.

Meanwhile, residents with pump-out have no choice but to pay those exorbitant charges, due in large part to domestic tanks having to be pumped out into sewage tanker trucks every two weeks.

And whether you are a single person or live in a home with six people, you are charged the same amount on your rates for pump-out.

Some of the questions on the very brief online survey are somewhat curious and appear to show a lack of basic understanding about many residents’ waste systems.

One asks, “Have you investigated alternate systems to pump out? (examples include Septic tanks with adsorption trenches or evapotranspiration beds, Aerated wastewater treatment systems, Irrigation systems, Composting units, reed beds, sand filters and mounds, Worm farms and Dry composting systems)”.

Residents most often cannot have another type of system – and many have already been through that investigative process in an effort to save money and often been told by Council they cannot, for example, have a septic tank with absorption trenches, because many of the pump-out systems are on relatively small blocks.

As one resident said on social media this last week, “I just think it's odd how they ask if you have researched other options. I would but you as council have said I'm not allowed bio cycle (due to land size) so what would the point be?”

Another question asks, “Are you willing to obtain a wastewater study to demonstrate if there is an appropriate alternative to a pump out system for your property? (Estimated cost for this would be $1,000 - $1,500).”

Given it’s clear many residents are struggling to pay the $350-$500 a month in combined rates and pump-out charges, it might be a stretch to imagine they have a lazy $1500 lying around for a study, which may turn out to say no, you can’t have an alternative.

Bowen Mountain resident John Lee has some thoughts about the pump-out situation and echoes what many with the costly system are saying.

“It’s important to say that all ratepayers should pay the same share of the burden of costings for things such as water delivery and sewerage disposal, since these essential services should be provided by the government, whether state, federal or local.”

One issue here though is sewage systems are not always provided by government.

Developments such as Pitt Town have seen that developer install a system operated by a private company.

But Mr Lee makes a fair point when he says, “we all pay the same taxes for the provision of public infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals, public schools, the military, the ambos, fire departments and the police.

“The current system of privately-provided, monopoly-controlled pump-out is a blatant example of crony capitalism at its worst.

“There is no transparency of the costs of the service, or consequently the profits being made - at our expense. Why is Sydney Water - as the non-profit, taxpayer funded branch of our government - not providing this service, or seeking to long-term improve our infrastructure by providing water and sewage? Who makes these decisions?”

Hawkesbury Council has made several unsuccessful attempts over the years for a subsidy, which some other local government areas receive from Sydney Water (Blue Mountains LGA is one example), but so far the Hawkesbury has not been granted this subsidy.

If you haven’t seen the Council’s survey – and plenty haven’t – here’s the link:

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