It's Johnson v Johnson in dump fees dispute

ANGRY: New commercial waste fees at the Port Pirie rubbish dump have incensed builder "Bluey" Johnson who says the council may have breached the Local Government Act. He also wants new dump operation times.
ANGRY: New commercial waste fees at the Port Pirie rubbish dump have incensed builder "Bluey" Johnson who says the council may have breached the Local Government Act. He also wants new dump operation times.

Builder ”Bluey” Johnson says changes to the city’s dump fees regime are hurting local business and are possibly outside the Local Government Act.

The foundation to his claim is that on June 28 council adopted fees for the dump that “did not distinguish between commercial and domestic users”.

In a letter to him dated July 24, the council staff changed their interpretation of the schedule of fees to distinguish between domestic and commercial users.

The letter created a new minimum charge for commercial users of $65.

“Bluey” maintains that the published schedule of fees as adopted by council is based on the vehicle delivering the waste and the minimum fee cannot be lawfully levied as it has not been adopted by council.

He concedes that the resolution adopting the dump fees gave the council chief executive officer the power to “add or amend minor charges”, but he says the “re-interpretation” of the dump fee schedule plus the addition of a new charge were not “minor”, given the enormity of the effect on local businesses and properly should have been as a result of a resolution by the elected body of council as required by law.

“Bluey” said he had raised the issue with council’s development and regulation director, Grant McKenzie.

“Particularly unsatisfactory was the director’s email response to some questions put him which revealed that the method of distinguishing between domestic and commercial operators is that commercial customers have accounts and that “weighbridge operators will make assessment using commonsense as to the whether a trailer-sized load is obviously commercial in nature.”

“Bluey” questioned the practice of leaving the determination of whether a load is domestic or commercial up to an operator’s commonsense.

He said a levy paid to the Environmental Protection Authority for rubbish that passes through the waste transfer station does not distinguish between domestic and commercial sources, nor do the transporters, “so this is just another impost on business that impedes Port Pirie’s economic growth”.

“Bluey” said he had contact with many contractors who were upset by the arrangements.

This only added to the contracting industry’s concerns at the operation times for the dump which at 10am to 3pm severely hampered equipment use as a vehicle that was loaded at 3pm cannot be emptied until 10am the next day, effectively costing half-a-day’s productivity. On behalf of the business community, he called for the return of the previous charging regime and for the dump to open from 8am to 5pm weekdays.

Port Pirie Regional Council chief executive officer Dr Andrew Johnson defended the council’s new commercial waste policy.

This came after builder “Bluey” Johnson suggested the council might be breaching the Local Government Act by failing to distinguish between commercial and domestic users. Council chief Dr Johnson responded to the criticism by saying his organisation had approved fees for domestic waste based on the kinds of vehicles used by residential customers. It had then listed the fee for commercial waste. 

Asked whether it was questionable practice to require weighbridge operators to use "commonsense" when assessing whether a trailer-sized load was commercial, Dr Johnson replied he was unsure about the nature of the question, but that “if a load is asked to be put on a commercial account, it is generally safe to say its commercial – our staff also know our regular customers”. He was unaware that “Bluey” Johnson had formally asked for the tip operation times to change to 8am to 5pm weekdays.

“This would require additional staffing resources and costs which would need to be recovered from users,” he said. “The operations of the transfer station will be reviewed soon.

“Council has written to operators who hold commercial accounts at the transfer station to confirm that the commercial fee applies to all commercial loads regardless of the vehicle they are delivered to the transfer station in. For most not much has changed.” He denied commercial waste depositors would face unreasonable extra costs.

“It reflects the cost of providing the service and the ever-increasing fees and restrictions imposed on council. The transfer station does not make a profit and is subsidised.”