NEWS THAT MATTERS

I:part from transparency

Central Coast Council encouraged community members to have their say on the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) draft determination on water, sewerage and stormwater drainage pricing for the Central Coast, yet it would seem that IPART doesn’t even have the courtesy to respond to community concerns.

22 March 2022

ALAN HAYES

 

IT IS blatantly obvious that IPART, who pretend to be an independent body, do no more than kowtow to the state government’s puppet ruler, acquiescing to what he wants despite the financial hardship it may impose upon the community.

 

Central Coast ratepayers are continually being held to ransom for Council’s financial failure regardless of the costly impost upon them. The previous council administrator Dick Persson even had the audacity and arrogance to claim on ABC radio that ratepayers were shareholders of council, and therefore had to pay to bail council out, a position that the current administrator Rik Hart continues to adopt.

 

Jilliby resident, and long-time community activist and champion, Mike Campbell submitted a  sensible document to IPART regarding Council-under-Administration’s application to raise water and sewage rates by 34 percent.  “One wonders why I bothered,” said Mr Campbell.

 

“After being interviewed for about 15 minutes, by the whole IPART hierarchy and Council water staff, last October about my concerns and forward planning for an expensive desalination plant, one would expect at least the good manners to respond. I wrongly thought that fresh IPART eyes would elicit a response.”

 

Mr. Campbell was dumbfounded at the apparent lack of interest in the reporting about the forward cost to ratepayers of some $230 Million of capital, with yearly costs of $16 Million plus on top.

 

Mr. Campbell was also concerned that the draft IPART Report, released on 15 March, did not address the issues raised by him. Yet “transparency” is one of the so-called cornerstones of IPART.

 

“Not even a personal email to explain the omission,” said Mr Campbell.

 

“I had simply asked, both in writing and in camera, that I was seeking from IPART clarification of Council’s actual timeframes, location and funding arrangements for a permanent desalination plant and also a clear and unambiguous strategy for expenditure on planning and forward estimate costs for desalination, within this pricing period and that for the period 2027-31.”

 

“My question was based on what Council – under-Administration - had put forward earlier in their Water Security Plan, indicating beyond planning, to construct in the next five years a seawater inflow pipe over a kilometre out to sea, and also including works at the Toukley sewerage Plant to accommodate the plan.”

 

Because Council had not placed a monetary value on the seawater inflow pipe, Mr. Campbell offered an estimate, based on other desalination plants in Australia, that it could be $30 Million of work.

 

“All this without ratepayer interaction!” Said Mr. Campbell.

 

IPART have chosen to go with both Council-under-Administration’s wishes and that of the State Government through DPE (Planning).

 

On page 18 of the sub-report “Demand for Water Services” IPART quotes that due to drought possibilities and extreme conditions… “this could mean greater infrastructure expansion, greater capital costs over the long term, as well as costs potentially brought forward” – basing their conclusions on supposition and inviting Council to proceed without care. IPART have not done their homework and they don’t intend to.

 

The draft report clearly indicates that IPART have simply chosen to back the State Government’s wishes to bring desalination to all parts of the NSW coast as part of Premier Perottet’s Mega City plan to pave the coast from Wollongong to Newcastle. This has given the government’s puppet ruler unlimited power to bleed Central Coast ratepayers, taxing them into serfdom. It also gives the same ‘Kids in the Candy Store’, who contributed to council’s financial woes, to go on a spending spree, while ratepayers are supposed to accept austerity measures and continue to fund the dictatorial machinations of non-democratic local government.

 

Yet council administrator Rik Hart says that he has always looked forward to democracy returning to the Central Coast.

 

“As Interim Administrator, I will continue to support the CEO in actioning the Business Recovery Plan and strategies put in place for the Council to be financially sustainable into the future, until such time that a local government election is called,” said Mr. Hart.

 

Hollow words from an administrator that do not reflect spending in areas that should be pulled off the drawing board until a democratic council has been elected, and then only once council’s house is order. Yet, at every opportunity, ratepayers are being told they have to pay more and more, without any accountability.

 

The Coast doesn’t want money being wasted on big-ticket items, like desalination, just to satisfy the pipe dreams of politicians, in particular a Perrottet mega-city plan. Water supply is not a problem.

 

If you follow the real facts about water supply on the Central Coast, Mangrove Dam, our major water storage, in 2007 fell to about 11% storage after it took 5 years to fall from 45%. That has been our only threat to water shortage. Since that time, and following quickly, $120 Million was spent on the Mardi to Mangrove pipeline, which immediately raised the levels and have done so exponentially since.

 

Engineers have also recently confirmed, following inspections, that the Mangrove dam can be filled to capacity. The dam is presently at 88 percent, far beyond any prior level achieved. Mardi Dam is at 80 per cent and Mooney dam at 100 percent. You would have to have a drought lasting 5 years for it to fall anywhere near 55%. Climate Change and the influence of East Coast Low’s increasing ‘thwart’ this scenario.

 

These figures make it difficult to justify a rush to desalination, under the guise of “drought”, and fly-in-the-face of the community being told that council have adopted economies, while expecting ratepayers to dig ever-deeper into their pockets.

 

Studies carried out by the CSIRO found that west of the Great Dividing Range Australia will experience more frequent and long-lasting droughts, while the eastern seaboard will experience a far wetter climate with frequent flooding. The Central Coast will be awash with water, easily maintaining water storage security for an expanding population.

 

Yet, to justify the financial burden of desalination upon the community, Council have cunningly turned to water quality doubts, suggesting that the Coast cannot sustain good drinking water without bringing forward an alternate supply. An expensive alternate water supply that will impoverish the Central Coast – a water supply that is hugely costly to run and environmentally damaging to ocean ecosystems. A recent UN report says that throughout the world damage to ecosystems by desalination has been underestimated by 50 percent.

 

Because the Central Coast is officially a “Community-in-Exile”, ratepayers have no rights to debate. The State Government, the Council Administrator, and now apparently IPART are all in lockstep. Leaving the Central Coast community burdened with massive construction and yearly costs forever for a permanent and polluting desalination plant.

 

But it doesn’t get any better!

 

The council administrator wants to see ratepayers, who own rural properties west of the M1 Motorway, pay stormwater rates. Certain council staff have been pushing this agenda since the Gosford and Wyong Council merged but failed to achieve a separate stormwater charge, because there is no stormwater infrastructure and the Water Management Act did not allow it.

 

Now council, under-administration, have persuaded IPART to bow-down to their desires and introduce stormwater charges by stealth under the local government rates.

 

IPART said, on their website, “We consider all costs for stormwater services should be fully funded by local government rates from 1 July 2026. In our view, these services provide benefits to the whole community – not just specific customers. Therefore, these services should be funded through local government rates like other services that benefit the whole community.”

 

The rural areas west of the M1 are vast, a great deal of which provide catchment for the Central Coast’s water supply, and never will have any stormwater infrastructure provided. So, why should rural residents pay for the privilege of something that can never benefit them – stormwater infrastructure in the urban community does not and cannot benefit the rural community no matter how hard administrator Rik Hart and his sycophants spin it.

 

Administrator Rik Hart is also seeking an increase by around $200 on 1 July 2022 to suburban water, sewerage and drainage rates. This would increase council charges to urban ratepayers by around $49 per year, before inflation, until 2025-26.

 

Not surprisingly, IPART are supporting council’s wish list with the same belief as the administrator ‘that ratepayers are council’s personal milch cow’.

 

If you object to these further charges being foisted upon you, you have until 14 April 2022 to make a submission. You can make a submission in three ways:

 

 

 

 

Unless the state government, council and IPART all come clean by facing the community in public meetings, with media presence, in which everyone can have a say the dictatorial hammer will continue to pound the heads of all Central Coast residents.

 

The Grapevine attempted to communicate with IPART’s key contact Scott Chapman, as listed on their website, in respect of stormwater charges in the rural districts and the desalination plant but he declined to give an answer.

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