Rural sector pay urban water fee

A group of Balliang East residents say they’re sick and tired of funding amenities they don’t use.

Long-term resident, Ian MacFarlane said despite living 30-kilometres away from Melbourne, residents had, for years, been forced to pay an annual parks charge that funds the maintenance of popular city reserves such as the Yarra River, Albert Park and the Melbourne Zoo.

“Parks Victoria relies on the fact that we were accidentally once part of the City of Werribee, and dismisses the fact that since 1994 we have been part of Moorabool Shire,” he said.

“Balliang East is not part of Melbourne, which is 30-kilometres from here”.

Mr MacFarlane said he thought the issue had been resolved when a conciliator from City West Water, who bill and collect the annual charge on behalf of Parks Victoria, contacted him in 2011 promising to refund a total of $11,500 to 24 properties.

“However this was shortly retracted after an audit in June that same year, but none of the residents of Balliang East were ever consulted or involved in that audit, or any other review for that matter,” he said.

“When I received that message I thought things were looking up, but Parks Victoria obviously knocked it on the head for some reason. They seem determined for us to pay it, but anyone who has been to this area would understand that we are nowhere near Melbourne”.

Fed up with the situation, Mr MacFarlane began refusing to pay the annual park charge, however said he soon began receiving phone calls from City West Water, followed by the debt collectors.

“They [CWW] contact us two to three times a year, and it’s frustrating because if you get someone from the customer services department you’ve never spoken to before you have to explain the whole ordeal all over again. Some of them I’ve been talking to for five to ten years and they’re very sympathetic, but when I reach someone new I have to explain it all over again,” he said.

“I then started receiving calls from people in the Philippines and I found out City West Water had sold us to the debt collectors. Nobody wants to discuss it with us and I think they’re probably frightened because we try and invite them out here, and if they came they would realise that we are not part of Melbourne”.

“We made a lifestyle choice of not wanting to live in the city, so I just don’t understand why we are being asked to pay for things in Melbourne that we don’t even use”.

After refusing to pay the $67 annual charge for many years, Mr MacFarlane now owes over $800 in park charges.

However Managing Director for City West Water, Anne Barker said properties subject to the charge were those that lied with the Urban Parks Boundary, which was based on former municipal boundaries.

“After local government was restructured in the mid 1990s, parts of the former Shire of Werribee came under authority of the Moorabool Shire Council but remained with the Urban Parks Boundary,” she said.

“Properties east of the Little River/Balliang Creek and south of Spring Hill Road reside within the Urban Parks Boundary, and are therefore subject to the Parks Charge”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said anyone having problems paying their water bills could talk to their local water corporation about what type of assistance might be available.

First appeared in The Moorabool News, Tuesday June 30 2015

UPDATE – The Fight Continues

Whilst a group of Balliang East residents continue to fight a Parks Victoria maintenance fee, evidence has surfaced which shows they may be more alone than they thought. A letter from City West Water dating back to 2006 states that a Balliang East property-owner would be exempt from the charge, which is used to maintain popular city reserves such as the Melbourne Zoo (as seen in The Moorabool News, 30/06/2015).

“I am pleased to advise that the above properties are classed as rural. As a result we have credited your account for the Parks charge you have paid from April 2003,” the letter reads.

 The 2006 letter, signed by Maria Sales from CWW Customer and Community Relations, offers a cheque for $450.90, which represents “credit due to parks charge adjustment”. Balliang East resident Ian MacFarlane said 30 properties, including his own, were still being subjected to the charge, despite a small group of residents allegedly being exempted and refunded. “This is very unsatisfactory, I don’t understand how some people don’t have to pay,” he said. “They’ve been exempted from the charge because they have complained a lot or are on farm rates. This letter that has surfaced is dated back to 2006, so ten years ago City West Water obviously knew they’d screwed up, yet I wrote my letter in 2011 and am still being harassed all the time for money”. Moorabool Shire Mayor Cr Paul Tatchell has backed the Balliang East residents, with a letter to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change & Water, Lisa Neville.

“Whenever I visit this part of Moorabool it is a key issue that is brought to my attention. It is inequitable that a Parks charge is levied on a rural community over 30kms from suburban Melbourne,” he wrote. “It would be greatly appreciated if you could review this issue and present a common sense, pragmatic outcome for Balliang East residents.”

Mr MacFarlane said he was grateful for Cr Tatchell’s involvement and looked forward to the possible outcome. “I was very happy and very touched by the fact that Paul would do that. I’ve since received word from somebody in the premier’s office saying that Lisa Neville would write to me personally,” he said. “That is what I wanted, because the minister is someone who is actually responsible and has the power to take us off the charge so I’m hoping she sees sense and this will come to an end”. Mr MacFarlane has since received another bill from City West Water, which amounts to $860 in unpaid fees. First appeared in The Moorabool News, August 4 2015

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