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Price rise 'extreme'

Wednesday, 17th March, 2010

A draft report into the city's future water and sewerage prices has raised concerns from both Country Energy and Council's Water Resources Working Group.

The report was released by the NSW Government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal on Monday, and forecasts a significant rise in the cost of water and sewerage services for local residents. Country Energy also takes a hit in the report, which claims that the utility can cut its operating costs over the next three years by 12 per cent, and spend less on planned capital works projects.

Managing Director of Country Energy Craig Murray said the report unfairly compares Broken Hill to centres such as Gosford, Tamworth and Queanbeyan, and does not take into account the "exceptional circumstances" Country Energy works under locally. The cutbacks outlined in the draft report would also impede the construction of infrastructure in the future, Mr Murray said.

"Country Water operates a unique water business in the most arid area of the State and it's already a heavily subsidised business, including major investments like the $41 million Mica Street water treatment plant that would not have been built without being subsidised by Country Energy. "It's IPART's role to ensure that customers aren't paying too much but also that Country Water has enough revenue to deliver safe and reliable water and sewerage services to local residents, including the additional two water apprentices we've just recruited.

"Country Water will continue to maintain and build water infrastructure to ensure sustainable water and sewerage services, but projected capital projects - such as a new $13 million sewerage treatment plant - will need to be deferred." Council's Water Resources Working Group was also critical of the report, with Chairman Tom Kennedy describing the projected cost increases as "extreme".

"It is disappointing... yet I am sure it is what most people expected from what many thought was nothing more than an attempt from IPART to appear to have had public input into the process. "This will have a devastating effect on the community and is another example of decisions being made in Sydney by people who do not understand Broken Hill conditions.

"They preach how cheap our water is to justify huge increases. We will pay a minimum $1.50 per 1000 litres at the same time cotton growers pay less than $1.50 per 1,000,000 litres of water."

Council General Manager Frank Zaknich is currently reviewing the draft report, while Mr Murray said Country Energy will be making a "comprehensive" response to IPART in the future.

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