Residents want lower water rates as Council goes for increase

Central Coast water and sewage charges under review by IPART.

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

The concern showed up in the unprompted section where people doing the survey were asked for the top three areas they wanted Council to improve.

The response focused on only two areas – pricing and water quality.

“Respondents from each data source were most likely to suggest that improvements should be directed towards lowering the price of water or keeping pricing at a reasonable level, as well as improving the quality of drinking water,” the report said.

The concern over water quality was even higher in prompted answers.

“The qualitative exploration also showed that while not all are experiencing poor quality drinking water, many who didn’t have an issue still sympathised with those experiencing quality issues – something potentially driven or exacerbated by word-of-mouth and social media,” the consultants said.

The survey was part of Central Coast Council’s community engagement as it attempts to increase water rates next year.

This week Council is putting the finishing touches to its submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for a water and sewer rates rise.

Council is hoping to claw back about $39M plus inflation that was lost when IPART lowered Council’s water rates in 2019.

IPART must receive the submission by September 10.

The survey conducted by Woolcott Research and Engagement mentioned the unprompted answers but the Council summary of the survey did not despite Council stating that “part of this submission to IPART involves us checking in with the community to make sure their views are considered”.

The Council summary focused on its targeted areas – increasing the price of water during drought and harmonising the prices for sewer services between the former Wyong and Gosford areas just like the residential rates.

This time, Wyong residents would be the ones paying more in any price adjustment.

Council said there was a mixed reaction to scarcity pricing.

“One potential barrier to acceptance to emerge from the analysis was the potential impact this price structure could have on vulnerable customers,” the Council summary said.

“So, if this were to be introduced, safeguards would need to be in place for this customer group, and this would need to be clearly communicated to the community.”

The survey also looked at the support levels of drainage charges being set by Council as part of general rates, to be in line with how other councils charged for this, instead of determined by IPART.

“There was not a clear level of support for the idea of drainage pricing being set by Council as part of general rates,” the summary said.

Respondents were not happy with sewerage overflows either.

Although less than 10 per cent said they were personally affected about half were concerned about the impact on the environment.

“From the exploration of these results, it was evident that when overflows do occur in community spaces they appear to have high visibility – particularly in and around beach areas which are of significant concern to residents.”

The summary showed that satisfaction with reliability of water supply was high at about 80 per cent but satisfaction with water quality was lower by a good 20 per cent.

The survey was done with three distinct groups:  a structured (representative of the Central Coast community) survey amongst 510 residents aged 18+; an unstructured survey via the website which attracted 620 responses; and a phone survey of 120 decision makers in small and medium businesses.

The full summary of the survey and the entire survey report are on the Council website at https://www.yourvoiceourcoast.com/all-projects/its-time-talk-water-sewer-and-stormwater-prices

Merilyn Vale

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