IPART Chair assures locals their views will be heard

IPART Tribunal Member Deborah Cope. CCN Feb 2021


IPART Acting Chair, Deborah Cope, has assured residents that every one of the thousands of submissions received regarding Central Coast Council’s proposed rate rise will be taken into consideration before the regulator makes its decision.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal had received an unprecedented 4100 private submissions, in addition to Council’s official request for a variation to allow for a 15% rate increase from next year, at the time of going to press.

Cope said all submissions would be scrutinised before a decision is handed down in May.

“We recognise this is a really tough time for ratepayers as well as for councils and we have to get the balance right,” Cope said.

“It is important that councils have the funds necessary to provide services but it also important that (rises) are not more than what is necessary.

“We welcome submissions from people on whether or not they think the application (for a rate rise variation) is reasonable or not.

“Submissions an integral part of what we do and we will review them all; they will feed into our deliberations.”

Cope said the tribunal looked at four major areas when determining variation requests:

  1. Are people aware of what has been proposed?; 
  2. Is it affordbale?;
  3. Is there a demonstrated need for the money?; 
  4. Has Council done the work to determine if there are other ways of saving money or possible revenue streams so rates don’t have to go up?

“We want to be sure people know what is proposed and we want to know if the proposal is affordable; submissions often provide important information here,” she said.

A refusal of Council’s proposed rate rise rise variation would not be unprecedented.

In 2018, IPART refused a request for a rate rise variation on the region’s water rates, with (then) CEO Gary Murphy saying at the time that it would make a significant hole in Council’s budget.

“When it comes to water rates, the Council puts together a proposal telling us what costs have been and what rates should be,” Cope said.

“We look at the efficiency of those costs and expect councils to have done the work in a prudent and efficient way to provide the lowest costs possible.

In 2018, Cope said the tribunal did not find that sufficient work had gone into justifying the costs to make it reasonable to expect ratepayers to pay them.

With regard to Council’s submission on the proposed 15 per cent rate rise, Cope said Council had reported its initial and amended surveys made available to residents.

“Based on that (amended) survey, 72 per cent of respondents said they favoured no rise,” she said.

“And half of those gave as their reason the mismanagement of Council.”

On the subject of rates harmonisation, which could see former Wyong residents pay three percent less than at present, and former Gosford residents pay as much as 30 per cent more, Cope said that was a matter for Council to resolve.

“We are aware of the (rate) differentiation and we are also aware that some former Wyong ratepayers are upset at having paid higher rates for some time,” she said.

“But we set the percentage of how much the bucket can go up and then Council must go through the process with the community to find the right blend of rates across different areas and categories.”

IPART will accept submissions on the proposed rate rise until March 7 and will hand down its determination in May.

Terry Collins