Charges for rural properties may increase by 4,200 %

Stormwater catchment. Image: CommonsStormwater catchment. Image: Commons

A proposal to apply stormwater charges to the owners of rural properties, based on the size of their landholding, is expected to be opposed by the Coast’s rural communities.

Around 290 farmland properties in the former Gosford Local Government Area would see their annual stormwater charges increase by at least 1,200 per cent. One hundred and thirty of those would incur an increase of 4,200 per cent with their annual stormwater charge climbing from around $125 per year to $5,427. Central Coast Council has proposed the changes to its stormwater drainage charge in its submission to IPART for the setting of water and sewerage charges from 2019 to 2023. The change would see a stormwater drainage charge introduced for all nonresidential customers across the local government area (LGA) which would include farms and rural properties.

The IPART submission proposes that all rateable properties be levied the stormwater drainage charge to harmonise stormwater drainage service costs across the whole LGA. This would only happen if Council received approval from the NSW Government for a new Drainage Area covering the whole of the Central Coast. The proposal, if accepted by IPART, would see stormwater drainage charges for all residential properties, regardless of size, reduced to $110.77 per year. Non residential stormwater drainage charges would be based on size of the nonresidential property, and would range from $110.77 for a non-residential property under 1,000 square metres, all the way up to $5,427 for a nonresidential property greater than 45 hectares.

Some non-residential customers would be able to apply for a ‘Low Impact’ rate, based on the amount of roof and hardstand area compared to grassed or vegetated areas. Onsite measures for stormwater management, such as detention storage, rainwater tanks, farm dams and vegetated swales, would also be considered in a ‘Low Impact’ rate assessment. Central Coast Mayor, Jane Smith, said that she did not know whether landowners would need to apply for a ‘Low Impact’ rate each year. Mayor Smith said she encouraged all residents to make submissions directly to IPART before 5pm on October 12.

IPART will hold a Public Hearing on November 27. It will make a draft determination in April, 2019, when the community will be invited to give further feedback. Council Senior Manager, Water and Sewer, Bileen Nel, said: “The proposed changes to the stormwater drainage charges would see a decrease in the charge for all residential properties and most businesses. “However, the way businesses were charged in the two former local government areas was completely different and the alignment of prices will result in some businesses paying more for their stormwater drainage services.” Nel said most Central Coast residents and businesses already paid a stormwater drainage charge and Council was proposing this charge be applied to all rateable properties. She said Council’s proposal to apply a consistent approach to the stormwater drainage charges reflected the regional benefit provided by the stormwater network in protecting property from flooding, helping connect communities and support access to homes, schools and places of work, and enhancing natural assets. For the proposed stormwater drainage charges to come into effect, they require the endorsement of IPART, and Council would then need to apply to the NSW Government for a new Drainage Area to cover all of the Central Coast.

Customers in the former Gosford LGA can find their current stormwater charge on their rates notices. Currently, non residential customers in the former Gosford LGA are charged a flat rate of $124.68 per year. The proposal would result in over 3,000 non residential customers receiving a reduction in their Stormwater Drainage Charges, but around 530 non-residential customers would incur increases. It is understood Council will be contacting all the significantly affected non-residential customers directly about the changes and encourage them to make a submission to IPART. All land categorised as Farmland under Section 515 of the Local Government Act is classified as non residential.

Council is currently undertaking a review of all Farmland properties with a view to streamlining the Low Impact assessment process. In 2011, the former Wyong Council attempted to introduce stormwater drainage charges to residents of the Dooralong and Yarramalong Valleys, as the policy of the neighbouring Gosford Council had been to charge all rateable properties for stormwater drainage. However, residents of the valleys argued that under Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 125A, a Council could “make or levy an annual charge for stormwater management services only in respect of urban land that is categorised for rating purposes as residential or business”, but that urban land meant land within a city, town or village. Wyong Council argued land zoned as Rural was within a village. Residents liaised with the Office of Local Government and sought legal opinion as to the meaning of Regulation 125A. Wyong Council, after seeking its own legal advice, determined only to apply its stormwater charge to residents east of the M1.

Source: Media statement, Oct 4 Alan Hayes, Jilliby Media release, Oct 9 Central Coast Council media Interview, Oct 9 Jane Smith, Central Coast Council Jackie Pearson, journalist