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9 June, 2022

Clubs battle council over water charges

TWO sporting clubs are reeling after receiving massive water bills from Tablelands Regional Council – the first time they have been charged for water that is used to keep their sporting fields playable.

By Robyn Holmes

The sporting fields at the Atherton International Club which are the subject of water battle between clubs and the council.

The demand for the two clubs to pay for water for the fields may just be the tip of the iceberg though, with council reviewing water usage arrangements for all sporting and community organisations who use multiple venues as part of a new water concession policy. 

For many years, the Atherton Eagles Football Club and the Atherton Touch Association have used the fields behind the Atherton International Club as their home base and were shocked when council sent them a $12,000 water bill, which was later waived, and then a $8000 water bill. 

Atherton International Club president John Wilkinson and football club vice president Jason Cummings made their feelings known about the charges when they addressed councillors during the May meeting, accusing the council of disrespecting the decisions of previous councils who had put the free water arrangement in place. 

The clubs were now facing having to pay more than $8000 a year, and even if council gave them a 50 per cent concession, it was “still crazy money, it’s ridiculous and not affordable by the clubs”. 

Mr Cummings questioned how water usage was dealt with by multiple clubs and organisations operating out of council- managed venues such as Morrow Park and the Showgrounds. 

“There’s a lot of organisations that are not paying anything – I just want it to be fair and equitable across all clubs and want to know whether we are being singled out,” he said. 

Mayor Rod Marti agreed that there was the problem and acknowledged there “were a diversity of arrangements between council and clubs and “we are trying to sort it out and be consistent at the same time”. 

Mr Cummings also questioned the cost of the water which he claimed added up to $980 a megalitre compared to farmers who paid $30-$50 a mg/l for irrigation. 

Mr Wilkinson said the international club paid for all the costs incurred by the soccer and touch football clubs as its contribution to the community, only charging them $1 per year to use the fields. 

“This is not water the international club uses – there are two separate accounts – we are not asking anything for the international club,” he said. 

“You need to look at what we give and what the council will be up for if you have to provide fields for 400 kids – you need to respect some of the decisions of your predecessors. 

“We are talking junior sport here – if each child had to pay $100 extra for water a year, mums and dads are hurting as it is, we all know what’s going on, and they will just pull out. 

You will have no soccer, no touch – what do those kids do?” 

He said providing the fields for the sporting organisations was costing the international club around $5000 a month and during big events like school-based competitions, the club’s car park was filled to capacity, with only 2-3 spaces left for its patrons. 

Mr Wilkinson also questioned the amount of water being charged to the sporting clubs. 

“I can’t understand how that much water has been used - it equates to an inch a day of water – I mean that $8000 bill was only for six months – it hasn’t even been used, we just had the wet season, and it’s certainly not being used by the international club,” he said. 

Water used on the fields was “not to make the grass grow”, but rather to keep the ground in an appropriate condition for kids to play sport. 

“The ground is as hard as concrete – the kids get injuries, shin splints, my own grandson can’t play anymore because his legs got too sore,” Mr Wilkinson said. 

“If we don’t water it, it gets harder and harder.” 

Mr Cummings confirmed $25,000 had been spent on the fields over the past five years in a bid to soften the ground, but regular water was necessary to maintain its current condition. 

Council went into closed session to discuss the issue, later emerging for Cr Peter Hodge to move that a 75 per cent concession should be applied. 

That was rejected by council and replaced with a 50 per cent concession to which the council agreed on the basis it would be a one-off assistance. 

Mr Wilkinson said the decision was “scaping the bottom of the barrel” and amounted to only “temporary relief”. 

“My father (Ivan) was a councillor for the Atherton Shire (who was killed in the Mt Emerald plane tragedy in 1990) and he would be rolling in grave at this decision,” he said. 

The clubs will now investigate different funding streams to see if they can get a grant to put down bores.

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