Fraser Coast council accused of charging 'fake fees'
A HERVEY Bay woman says millions of dollars could be owing to ratepayers because of a council bungle.
Jeanette Maynes was refunded $72.80 after it was discovered the Fraser Coast Regional Council was not meeting its responsibility to register and record testable backflow prevention devices, which are used to protect water supplies from contamination.
But she said even her refund was incorrect, with the council owing her $57.44 for the fee according to her rates notice, meaning she was overpaid by $15.36.
The refund applied to backflow fees that were charged as part of her rates in 2016-17, but Ms Maynes is now pursuing another four years' worth of what she calls "fake fees".
She lodged a complaint with the council and Ombudsman regarding the fees in August, 2015.
Ms Maynes said more than $9500 was potentially owed to the complex where she had lived since 2008.
She said the entire Fraser Coast, with more than 2400 backflow devices, could possibly amount to $3-4 million.
But it is believed the amount that has been credited to ratepayers by council was about $180,000.
"I want an investigation into the entire backflow register for the Fraser Coast since implementation in 1998 and every fake fee credited to our ratepayers," Ms Maynes said.
A response from the council said the decision to credit the 2016/17 fees was made after consultation with the Queensland Ombudsman regarding regularity of testing and maintenance of the device register.
"The fees related to 2622 devices and have been credited to ratepayers' accounts," the statement said.
"The council's internal processes to administer the backflow prevention device program have now been updated to ensure test results are recorded."
The council spokesman said the total charges for the unit complex were calculated and then apportioned to individual unit owners based on body corporate unit entitlement.
"The charge per backflow device for 2016/17 was $91, so with 15 devices on record at the time of levy, the total charge for the complex was $1365.
"Therefore Ms Maynes' portion is $57.44 based on her body corporate unit entitlement.
"However, upon receipt of test reports for Mrs Maynes' property in early 2017, four additional backflow prevention devices had been added to the register. Upon review, these additional devices were found to be double-ups and so were subsequently removed from the register. In the meantime however, the credit had already been issued to the property owners which resulted in the discrepancy.
"The credit was calculated using the number of devices recorded against the property at that time - being 19 devices rather the correct number of 15 devices. The calculation is: 19 devices at $91 each, which equals $1729, giving a credit of $72.80.
"In essence Ms Maynes and all other property owners in the unit complex have received slightly higher credits than what they were actually entitled to. Council is not aware of any other properties that were similarly affected.
"Given the relatively small dollar amount in question, property owners will not be asked to refund the money," the spokesperson said.
The decision to credit the 2016/17 fees was made after consultation with the Queensland Ombudsman regarding the frequency of council's administration program and consistency of maintenance of the device register, the spokesman said.
Council's internal processes to administer the backflow prevention device program have now been updated to ensure that test results are recorded and any follow up action is implemented.
How are backflow devices utilised?
ACCORDING to the council website, backflow prevention devices are used to protect the community and ensure the reverse flow of contaminants into the town drinking water can't occur through either siphoning of contaminated liquid into a water main, when there is negative pressure due to a burst water main, or a cross- connection of wastewater in a system (or other system) having a higher pressure than the water main.
The council commenced an approved inspection program of testable backflow prevention devices in the region's properties between April 7 and June 7. The program was carried out in accordance with Section 134 of the Local Government Act 2009 for the purpose of maintaining the council's register of these devices as required under the Standard Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2003.
Hervey Bay resident Jeanette Maynes said water contamination could have severe consequences.
"Contaminated water incidents may have serious or even fatal consequences for water consumers."