IPART promises ‘thorough review’ of request for 34 per cent water rates hike

Ratepayers could face a hike of 34 per cent in their water rates from July 1 next year if a proposal from Central Coast Council is accepted by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

IPART is reviewing the maximum prices that Council can charge for its water, wastewater, stormwater and other water-related services.

Council submitted its pricing proposal on September 10 and on September 28 IPART released its Issues Paper seeking community feedback.

IPART Chair, Carmel Donnelly, said IPART would assess whether the price changes proposed by the Council represented good value for money for customers and were affordable.

“The Council has proposed prices that would increase typical household bills by about 34 per cent in the first year, and then by inflation after that,” she said.

“The Council’s submission says the proposed price increase will ensure it could provide water services that meet its customers’ expectations now and into the future.

“This includes good quality drinking water, and reliable water supply, wastewater, stormwater and other water services.”

Council’s last proposal for a rise in water rates, in 2018/19, was refused.

“IPART did not find enough work had gone into the proposal to justify the prices Council was seeking,” Donnelly said.

“We found then that Council had consistently underspent in a number of areas and made suggestions on how it could improve its data analysis.”

Donnelly stressed that community feedback would form an important part of IPART’s assessment process.

“We want to make sure people are asked to pay the minimum required for safe services to be provided,” she said.

Donnelly said on average, Central Coast residents pay the lowest water rates in NSW but that would not drive IPART’s decision.

“We will be looking at what an efficient water utility should charge to provide the expected quality,” she said.

“It is very important for residents to know that IPART will be undertaking a very thorough review.

“We are especially keen to hear from residents what they expect and what is happening now with water services.

“We have already heard concerns about water quality and about Council’s management and efficiency surrounding infrastructure maintenance.

“We want to hear about any leakages or overflows and will balance the views of the community with the need for efficient services.

“Affordability will also be taken into account.

“These are tough times with uncertainty and economic difficulties surrounding COVID-19 and we are also aware of the recent movement in residential rates.

“We will look at affordability and what is a fair ask.

“Also, Council is not proposing any sort of gradual introduction for a rise and we are interested in hearing the reaction to that.”

Donnelly said the proposal would attract expert independent and in-house analysis.

Keeping the cost of water rates low was the number one concern of residents in a survey conducted for the Central Coast earlier this year.

Improving the quality of drinking water was the second most important improvement to residents.

Council is hoping to claw back about $39M plus inflation that was lost in the 2019 decision, with its water and sewerage business expecting a loss of $11M this financial year.

Donnelly encouraged customers and the community to make submissions to the review, complete the Have Your Say survey and participate in IPART’s online public hearing on October 26.

IPART will consider all comments made through submissions, survey responses, and at the public hearing before releasing a Draft Report seeking further community feedback in early March 2022.

Central Coast Council is the only council in NSW that is also a Water Supply Authority and for which IPART sets maximum prices.

Submissions to the Issues Paper and responses to the Have Your Say survey can be made via IPART’s website and are due by November 1.

The Issues Paper, the Council’s pricing proposal, and information on how to register for the upcoming public hearing are also available on IPART’s website.

IPART will set new prices to apply from July 1, 2022.

Sue Murray and Terry Collins