• Tony Bosworth

Pump-out - Number 2 – the year-long wait for answers to councillor’s motion

Our story a month ago about how Hawkesbury residents with pump out systems are being slugged as much as $4000-$5000 a year in rates came up after numerous social media comments from unhappy ratepayers.

Our story led to one councillor angrily contacting us, saying we only had half the story.

Always eager to learn more, we said let’s take a look.

Labor councillor Amanda Kotlash sent us a Motion she’d put before council asking staff to look into the situation – over 700 residents have pump out across the Hawkesbury, including parts of Bowen Mountain, Kurmond and Kurrajong.

What we found was the councillor’s Motion to get information was put up a year ago yesterday – May 26 - and so far councillors have not received any report in response to it.

Meanwhile, residents with pump-out are still paying exorbitant rates, due in large part to domestic tanks having to be pumped out into sewage tanker trucks every two weeks.

Back in August 2020, Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett put her own council Motion up to try and get an online forum with affected residents to find out what the issues were and to discuss ways of solving them.

That Motion was lost – Cllr Kotlash confirmed she was one of the councillors who voted it down.

“I opposed this, not because I don’t care about the residents who have these systems, but because the nature of the questions and feedback that I have received from members of our community on this issue often don’t lend themselves to a public meeting format,” Cllr Kotlash told us.

“I believed there was a better way to achieve community questions/feedback, one that I had already put in train and it [an online community meeting] would have involved additional expense to ratepayers without any extra benefit,” Cllr Kotlash said.

Answers to that “better way” have been a long time coming for cash-strapped residents who are paying around $350 a month in rates alone for what is essentially a 19th century sewage system.

Cllr Kotlash says the report from council staff – whenever it comes – will cover the following areas:

  1. looking at the types of alternative system options available and their associated costs;

  2. reviewing information that Council has and whether it needs to be updated (for example, system locations, frequency of pump out, etc);

  3. gathering insights and issues from the community, particularly as we conduct the Sewer Management Facility inspections; and

  4. reviewing all work that council has done in the past regarding the cost of service delivery.

Point number three is very interesting because it is not being carried out, or at least not fully. Full disclosure here – this writer has pump-out, has recently had to pay to have it inspected by council, and there was no “gathering insights” moment.

Cllr Kotlash said she had talked to council staff recently and was told information was “being gathered to be able to brief councillors before submitting a report in late May/June”.

What should be noted here is Cllr Kotlash’s May 2020 Motion is not a call to action to solve the issue. Cllr Lyons-Buckett told the Post that was why she had put up her own Motion in August last year calling for a public online forum.

“I initially put up a Motion to investigate the long term solutions with sewer/sullage in this area,” Cllr Lyons-Buckett said.

“Cllr Kotlash’s Motion attributed some funding within the budget to investigate that, which was good. My subsequent Motion however was not contingent on waiting on a report of possible future solutions, but to address the myriad of questions received about the current situation.

“We have in our LGA, sewered areas under Sydney Water, council, and a couple of private systems. Then we have septic, envirocycle and pump out systems. There is a lot of confusion around this and the anomalies that result in some people’s rates, due to having pump out,” Cllr Lyons-Buckett said.

“There is a need for people to understand the need for council to carry out mandatory inspections, and the regulations around that. Those with envirocycles do not understand why they pay a service provider to inspect quarterly then are also required to have a council inspection.

“My proposal for an online forum, which would not have been an expense to council, was to enable people to seek clarity around these issues. I also was seeking to have these questions and answers turned into an online resource so that people with questions could refer to them in the future.”

We asked Cllr Kotlash on May 7 if she was, “happy with the wait of almost a year for information from council staff.”

She chose not to answer the question, but did say, “we really have to wait until we have a report”.

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