Libraries, childcare centres, sports grounds, outdoor swimming pools and theatres could be some of the services to be cut back if Central Coast Council is unsuccessful in its attempt to have the 15 per cent rate increase which came into effect on July 1 extended by seven years.
The rise comprises a 2 per cent cap set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) and a 13 per cent Special Rate Variation (SRV) which was granted by the regulator for a three-year period, but Council wants to see that period extended to 10 years.
Council Administrator, Rik Hart, said a proposal on which services might need to be cut if the rise was not extended would be released to the public before the end of the year.
“I have asked staff to start work on what services could be at risk if the rate rise is not extended,” he said.
“We want to minimise disruption to the community.
“This wouldn’t be our choice, but if IPART decides not to grant the extension of the rate rise, we want to have a plan in place.”
Hart said rather than services being cut altogether, savings would probably be made by “little bits of a lot of things”.
“We will obviously not be introducing any service cuts which would endanger public safety, break the law or harm the environment,” he said.
“But we need to look at areas where our revenue is less than costs.
“Many of our community facilities do not break even and are subsidised by the Council.
“It might be easier to list those services which we do not have to subsidise.
“Leisure centres, which have indoor pools, gyms and cafes associated with them, break even or return a small surplus.
“We do make money out of holiday parks and there is a positive cashflow from the airport.
“But things such as sports grounds and buildings we lease out to community groups are subsidised.
“I have asked staff to report on what would have the least impact on the community.
“It could be things like reducing hours of operation as opposed to closure (of some facilities).
“Where we have two similar services close to each other we might look at closing one.”
Hart said a business plan was expected to be finalised and made public sometime in November.
The application for an extension of the rate rise was “unique”, Hart said.
While applications for a rate rise are usually to get something new for community, asking for an extension was asking IPART to allow council to “keep” something it already had, he said.
Amid community backlash over news Council would also apply for a 34 per cent increase in water rates, Hart said Council needed to somehow recoup an estimated $25.8M per annum in income lost when IPART reduced water rates in 2019.
He said it was “intriguing” that MPs of both political parties on the Coast “say they’re there for the people” but will not support a continuation of the 15 per cent rate rise structure.
Hart said forward figures compiled on the assumption Council would keep its 15 per cent rate rise and be granted a 34 per cent water and sewerage rates rise showed that ratepayers would still be paying less than their counterparts in the neighbouring LGAs of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle in 2022-23.
“We looked at what average total rates might look like based on typical residential water consumption,” he said.
The average Central Coast Council ratepayer would be looking at a total rates bill of $2,671, while Lake Macquarie counterparts would be paying $2,750 and Newcastle ratepayers $2,848, he said.