THE decision to put the Fraser Coast's water and sewerage infrastructure and servicing back into total council control is a major step backwards, says Tim Waldron who ran Wide Bay Water Corporation for 10 years.
"You should never move something efficient into something less efficient such as a council-local government-style entity and that's what's happening," Mr Waldron said.
Last month the mayor and all but one councillor, George Seymour, passed the resolution to take back Wide Bay Water as a business unit within the council 12 years after then mayor Ted Sorensen agreed to turn it into a local government-owned corporation in 2000.
The former WBWC chief executive officer told the Chronicle that when he first took on the job in 1996 of running water for Hervey Bay City Council, the city's water and wastewater infrastructure and servicing was "backward".
"It was worse than some developing countries but we fixed it.
"Then when WBW took over Maryborough's water and sewerage just over two years ago we were confronted with underground assets that had had no investment. We were starting to fix that and making good progress.
"Wide Bay Water will never now be the place of water excellence that the Fraser Coast and all of Australia needs.
"Change is a good thing but water is a long-term business and you need to plan 20 years ahead. That's not going to happen under the Queensland local government culture."
Speaking publicly for the first time since he retired from WBWC in 2010, Mr Waldron said WBW had been "going along well" and was paying around an $8 million a year dividend to council when he left his post as its CEO.
"Frankly I would have preferred to reduce water charges rather than pay that $8 million yearly dividend to council but we had no choice under corporatisation."
In 2000 however, Mr Waldron, through a senior staff member was able to renegotiate a financial agreement with the State Government and managed to save $22 million as well as paying off WBW's entire debt at the time.
The world water specialist who is now the director of the International Water Association's water losses specialist group and also on the association's board, said his previous experience of Hervey Bay City Council running water and sewerage as a business unit was not a good one.
"When council ran water as a business unit we handed over $400,000 to them to service our IT needs and pretty soon computers lay about waiting to be fixed for weeks. I renegotiated with council and was able to hire an independent IT specialist and he took on a trainee. I paid $110,000 a year instead of that $400,000."
He said that while working within council and running 49% of its budget, he fought consistently to prevent council taking water and sewerage revenue and spending it on roads and other general revenue projects.
He believes today that will now happen all over again and the Coast's water and sewerage will suffer accordingly.
Jealousy and gossip had contributed to the demise of WBWC, he said.
"People get frightened of things when you are different and you are succeeding."
Mr Waldron questions the future of water and sewerage on the Fraser Coast when our councillors are elected for four-year terms.
"They cannot debate with council's senior executives how money should be used for our water business. How can they then make independent decisions to plan 20 years ahead?
"I have always looked at people and encouraged them to be brilliant thus cutting costs for the business.
"Accountants on the other hand look at figures and say 'how can we cut costs?'
"I now feel very sad that the Fraser Coast's water and sewerage is in the hands of people who don't share my philosophy."
Tim Waldron said WBWC
- Was the only water business in Queensland that had audited accounts
- Had a wonderful reputation in Australia and worldwide for expertise in reducing water losses
- Innovations introduced at WBW were often then sold around Australia and the world and reaped revenue
- Attracted some of the best water and sewerage experts to come to the Fraser Coast along with brilliant young people who were trained to take over major roles in the industry in the future
- That Queensland would have between 12 and 15 separate water companies within a few years
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.