Months after finalising redundancy packages for hundreds of workers, Central Coast Council is planning to increase its work force in the water, sewer and drainage department by at least 72 full time equivalent positions.
The total increase in the labour expenditure is estimated to be $32.7M over four years.
This includes recurring allowances and on costs, Council said in its submission to IPART for a 34 per cent price rise in water and sewer charges.
They were in one of 10 technical papers submitted along with the overview and summary of the proposal (still available on IPART’s website).
According to Table 31 in Technical Paper 5 the additional employee costs are shown as $7M for 2022-23, $9.7M for 2023-24 and around $10M for each of the next three financial years.
Below the table, the Paper said: “Water and Sewer’s additional head count is on average 65 additional FTEs per annum from 2022-2026. This increase is expected to decrease by 2028 in alignment with resources transitioning to retirement (8-10%) from 2028. These resources will not be replaced. The largest portion of FTE’s age currently sits within the 56-65 demographic.”
CCN has asked Council to confirm that the increase in new full-time positions is not around 65 per year between 2022 and 2027 which is implied in the above statement.
We have also asked for confirmation of the number of positions lost in water, sewer and drainage as a consequence of the recent redundancy program.
We had not received a response at the time of going to press.
A resident who read the entire IPART proposal, and wishes to remain anonymous, pointed out the relevant information to CCN.
They want to know why Council is proposing to increase staff in water and sewer by about 72 when 58 employees in that department recently took voluntary redundancy.
“It is difficult to believe that none of these staff could have covered any of the newly-requested positions,” the resident wrote in a response to IPART.
“Whilst we understand that Council was in financial difficulties it appears that the Water, Sewer and Stormwater funds were caught up in this issue despite having their own separate income and having to re-employ staff within a year of these redundancies does not appear to be a proficient way of running a business.”
A recent criticism at the Public Inquiry into Council’s financial debacle was that it does not publish current staff numbers by budget in its monthly financial statements so the public still don’t know where the cuts were made.
The resident questioned Council’s numbers and said two summary tables would have been useful for items such as operating expenses, FTE, capital, income and water usage that showed the actual spend over the previous determination period together with the proposed spend for the next determination period.
“I suggest a separate table that compares the allowed spend to actual spend would clearly and easily show the size of variations both in the previous determination and in proposed changes to future costs,” the resident said.
“There also appears to be a miss-labelling of the years in quite a few of the references plus different totals being provided.
“So what is the real proposed increase in staff numbers?” the resident asked.
The resident also took up a number of other issues, including Council’s proposed changes to how it charges the water and sewer overheads.
“A reduction in the recovery of over-inflated, inefficient and unrelated overhead charges will reduce costs and therefore proposed prices increases without affecting the ability of the business to provide the necessary water and sewer services,” the resident said.
The resident applauded the questions IPART sent to council asking for more information once it had seen the Council submission.
IPART asked about the specific activities of the proposed additional 20.2 FTEs for stormwater services.
And how the existing 13.2 FTEs who were being transferred from Council’s main operations to water and sewer had been funded previously.
IPART also asked how the proposed increase in the proportion of shared corporate overheads allocated to Council’s water business was taken into account in its consolidated budgeting, including in its 2021 application to IPART for a special variation to its general rates revenue.
Council had until November 1 to answer IPART’s questions.
IPART will publish a draft report in March of next year before more public hearings and a final determination in May.