Chronicle deputy editor Mat Nott
Chronicle deputy editor Mat Nott

WBW ailments will be hard to cure

WIDE Bay Water Corporation's moment of truth is fast arriving. Whether it remains a local government corporation or reverts to a business unit of council should be decided in November.

For our new councillors, this decision will determine their legacy. It comes very early in their term and one has to feel for them as they wrestle to digest the information needed to make an informed choice.

Councillors had little to say on the record in their prolonged election campaigns on the topic of WBW. This is not to say they did not turn their minds to it, just that their opinions on such a weighty matter were not part of their campaign platforms. As such the public is, and remains, largely unaware of councillors' individual positions on WBW.

Many ratepayers don't care who runs what as long as water comes out of the tap. But Maryborough-ites, keep an eye on your next water bill and compare it with your last and you'll be the first to understand we all have a vested interest in what goes on with WBW. Any bad decisions made now can make the future more expensive.

The lay of the land is this. WBW is making no money. It pays a dividend to FCRC but essentially this is the fleecing of Peter to pay Paul. Infrastructure for the delivery and treatment of water in Maryborough was over capitalised by the old Maryborough council and operated on a run to fail basis. Cue debt and relentless capital costs for WBW.

People are more water smart and this has reduced demand. WBW does not sell as much product - in this case water - so it impacts on profitability. Financially, WBW is sick but its ailments are not readily cured.

While the public position of the council is "let's wait for the report", private sentiment is geared toward change.

It is seductive to be known as the council that saved ratepayers $2 million year on year by absorbing WBW. The question is whether this touted saving will be real or illusory and whether benefit will rise up out of the restructure.

One wag tells me that the corporate overheads such as payroll, computers and the like that WBW pays to council cost about $1.4m.

Astonishingly, the same optimist reckons these could be got for a third of that price from private enterprise and questions whether the biller or the billee is at fault.

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