26 August, 2022
Property owner wins battle over payment
A PROPERTY owner and local businessman has finally reached an agreement with Tablelands Regional Council to be paid for earthmoving and other works done after years of wrangling with the organisation.
Owen Byrnes and his family have been trying to reach a settlement with the council over works he performed to rectify a stormwater drainage issue and to install a water main but after years of discussions with officers and managers failed to resolve the matter, a special meeting of council was called last week so councillors could step in and sort it out.
Mr Byrnes and his wife Terri say they were left angry and frustrated after a series of meetings and promises from officers did not resolve the matter, but were given the opportunity to speak directly to councillors at the special meeting before council went into closed session for more than 90 minutes to come up with a solution.
Mr Byrnes outlined how the matter had been handled over the past six years which started when he undertook some earthmoving on his own property at Tinaroo to rectify a stormwater flooding issue that, he says, was generated by the failure of the developer to meet the conditions imposed on the development.
When council was alerted to the works, Mr Byrnes was charged a fee of $4400 for an operating works permit.
“The drainage works carried out on our property were to rectify negligence on council officers’ behalf to enforce appropriate conditions on a neighboring property developed by others – not us,” he told council.
“This was at a cost to us of $40,000. Would you think council should contribute 50 per cent to this infrastructure to rectify their error? Not just a refund for a permit to work on our own land?”
The other issue related to Mr Byrnes’ three lots which are in the reticulated water benefited area but not yet connected to the council’s water network.
“Council has been collecting revenue of in excess of $6000 to date for a service they are unable to provide,” he said.
“At a minimal rate, Byrnes Earthmoving (his company) has installed, under council direction, an upgraded 100mm water main to replace the old inadequate 40mm water main that is past its useful life which has extended the service to the three lots,” he said.
Mr Byrnes says that after holding meetings with officers, they followed a process which included an operational works application, water main drawings submitted and accepted, and installation as per regulatory guidelines and all fees paid.
However, funds for the work were not forthcoming despite it being completed 18 months ago, and promises three months ago from an acting chief executive officer that it would be paid with a deed of agreement drawn up also never eventuated.
“That didn’t happen because we were then told that we would have to enter into an infrastructure agreement before the monies would be paid,” Mr Byrnes said who added that he would not sign such an agreement.
“Every time we get close to an outcome, they move the goal posts – and the revolving door of staff changes does not help. “In business, we understand that sometimes mistakes occur and we have worked endlessly to help council meet its obligations and to rectify the wrongdoing of the past.
“This has resulted in a huge financial commitment on our part.
“The current settlement figure on the table ($60,000) which officers have been promising to pay for more than three months is only a fraction of our real costs which are more than four times that amount.” Mr Byrnes said he had spent around $60,000 just in administration and professional advice and assumed council may have also forked more money to deal with the matter than what it committed to pay in the first place. “We have strived to work in harmony with our local authority.
The effect that the continued disconnection within the organisation to the business community has had on our lives is immeasurable – financially and emotionally,” he told council.
After council emerged from closed session, it rejected the officer’s recommendation (which was not made public) and instead moved to pay Mr Byrnes a total of $70,410, with a statement included to explain why they rejected the recommendation.
“Council’s view is that it is no longer in our interest to prolong the matter given its duration, its very extensive impost on officer time and their welfare, the real financial and ongoing cost council, including seeking external legal advice and, most of all, the reputational damage to the organisation,” it read.