Water struggle to ease

THE struggle to pay water bills by Latrobe Valley consumers has been recognised by Gippsland Water, with plans of a massive reduction in price increases in its next water plan.

In announcing its proposed five-year pricing regime for the 2013-17 period today, Gippsland Water said it acknowledged the financial pressures its clients were under, in developing the new pricing plan.

“We are very mindful of the uncertainty in our community and the climate of constraint that creates,” Gippsland Water managing director David Mawer said.

Salvation Army Latrobe community outreach and support services manager Joedy Meers said after recording a spike in the number of clients struggling to meet water and energy bills in the past 12 months, a reprieve from further increases “could not come soon enough”.

“Welfare workers in other areas have been amazed at how high our water prices have been in Gippsland lately … we really welcome the news; it’s hugely needed by our clients who have been really struggling,” Ms Meers said.

The draft ‘Water Plan 3’ released today outlines two possible water pricing increase schemes for the 2013/14 to 2017/18 financial year period.

As part of an upcoming community consultation period, customers will be asked whether they prefer a rise of 1.32 per cent plus inflation per annum for the next five years, or an initial increase of 3.94 per cent plus inflation in the first year, followed by four annual increases of inflation only.

This comes as a stark contrast to the previous water plan in which Gippsland Water users incurred an increase of 71.4 per cent over five years from 2008, however after taking into account inflation, estimates bring the total figure of an increase of more than 90 per cent, propelling Gippsland residents into the highest paying water users in the state.

While the rises were widely blamed for cost blowouts associated with construction of the Gippsland Water Factory, Mr Mawer remained adamant the last water plan increases allowed for widespread infrastructure upgrades, from which water users could now reap the benefits.

“We have delivered a massive amount of capital works in the system, which needed desperately dealing with,” Mr Mawer said.

“We’ve worked hard to get to this point; there’s always (a) to need to do more, but we are also mindful of uncertain times and cost pressures.”

This comes after a Gippsland Resources Group survey sent out to Latrobe Valley residents earlier this year found a third of water users felt current water prices were “unacceptably expensive”.

GRG president Merv Geddes said while the reduction in increases certainly acknowledged the financial pain water users had been under, water users would still be suffering even if there was a five-year hold on water price increases.

However, Ms Meers commended Gippsland Water on implementing its hardship policy, which she said was “quite amiable” in negotiating payment plans with water users struggling to pay their bills.

Gippsland Water will embark on community consultation sessions in Moe on 19 June and Traralgon on 20 June for customer feedback on the plan.

A final decision on the water plan increases will be announced in May next year.