The council for a Queensland city has defended criticisms against a $945 annual tax for each toilet in a property.
Ratepayers in the city of Townsville must pay a "pedestal tax" of $945 for each toilet in a non-residential building.
That cost can add up significantly for businesses like motels, hotels, restaurants and pubs.
Ratepayers in state capital cities have their water and sewerage needs catered by a large corporation with enough economies of scale to not impose such fees.
But it's a different story for Australians living and working in rural and regional areas, where cash-strapped councils are responsible for providing the vital utility.
"Townsville City Council provides waste water services to more than 72,000 residential and commercial customers using six waste water treatment plants, close to 200 waste water pump stations and more than 1500kms of sewer mains," a spokesperson for Townsville City Council said, defending the levy.
The spokesperson said its waste management is held to a higher standard than other areas because of the Great Barrier Reef.
"Waste water charges have been in place for more than 20 years and cover the cost of constructing, operating, maintaining and managing the city’s waste water system."
A motel owner in Townsville, Chris Cooper, told the ABC earlier this month that he pays more than $23,000 each year for his toilets.
"I was told that probably the best option for me would be to remove the toilets, which is not a practical outcome," he said.
"We have employees – and we won't have them very much longer if this continues."
The Townsville charge dwarfs a similar charge at the NSW council area of Balranald Shire, which attracted controversy for a $100 charge per toilet for buildings that have more than two.
The dilemma for rural councils seem to be that local government guidelines state sewerage charges must be sufficient to fully pay for the service. Cross-subsidisation from other revenue is strongly discouraged.
"Council sets sewerage utility charges for residential and commercial customers in accordance with full cost recovery principles outlined in the Local Government Regulation 2012," said the spokesperson for Townsville City.
Australian Taxpayers' Alliance director Emilie Dye said last week the federal government should assist struggling councils so that a toilet tax does not have to exist.
"Local government collects a mere 3.4 per cent of tax revenue, while the federal government greedily laps up 81.4 per cent of the revenue," she said.
"The commonwealth government expects councils to provide all of the practical services, like sewage, that allow a community to function, while siphoning off the bulk of the funds."
The spokesperson for Townsville City told Yahoo Finance that assistance was available for struggling businesses.
“In March, in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, council announced a multi-million dollar support package, which included the deferral of rates and pedestal charges for businesses.”