Anger at Coliban Water price plan

Coliban Water has defended its planned price hikes, saying a 16 per cent rise next year is needed to keep the company viable.

The regional water provider hosted a public meeting last night to explain its new fee structure, which will raise rates each year from 2013-2018.

As part of its five-year plan charges would rise a total of 28 per cent, if the plan is approved by the Essential Services Commission (ESC).

Coliban managing director Jeff Rigby said the increases were needed to account for a $100 million shortfall.

Mr Rigby told a large audience gathered at the La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre that the new pricing plan was about recouping those losses.

“We cant afford to encounter that type of shortfall again,” he said. “The price adjustment process we’ve proposed is to cover the cost we need to keep delivering this service.”

Essential Services Commission chairman Dr Ron Ben-David said the proposals would give Bendigo the most expensive water in regional Victoria.

“Demand had fallen in recent years and that pushes prices up. As it stands, their proposal is partly about chasing those losses in the past,” Dr Ben-David said.

Angry Coliban customers expressed their disapproval, as many asked if people conserving water during the drought had led to them now being slugged with higher fixed costs.

Customer Jan Pavich said she would put a further submission to the ESC.

“They’ve basically told us nothing,” she said. “I’ll write in to them. I wrote in 2009 and I’m still waiting for a response.”

Rural water customer John Scott described the price increases as unaffordable and unnecessary. “It’s all bloody fluff,” he said.

“They’re only going to make it harder for people running their businesses.”

Mr Rigby said the planned price rises would involve a 16 per cent increase next year, followed by a 3 per cent rise plus inflation over each of the next four years.

If the plan goes ahead, the average home would pay $1272 a year by 2017-18, up from $976 this year. 

Dr Ben-David said people could still send in their objections and feedback. 

“Our team will be poring over the costs. It’s important we get feedback from the community telling us what about the plans they would like to see changed,” he said.

Comments and submissions are due by January 25 next year and should be sent to water@esc.vic.gov.au.

The final determination will be made in June next year before implementation on July 1, 2013.

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