Sutherland Shire Council is considering urgent measures to reduce its gas bill, including closing swimming pools in winter, increasing entry fees, lowering water temperatures and cutting subsidies to swimming programs after its gas supplier hiked the price by 220 per cent.
The increase will cost the community an extra $500,000 and will see the cost of heating and powering the council’s three major swimming centres blow out to $2 million a year, unless savings measures are implemented.
Mayor Carmelo Pesce said the council was flummoxed when it was informed in March of the imminent increase.
“It’s quite extraordinary. We don’t understand why it’s such a big increase. There was no explanation,” he said.
The hike means the council must consider the operational costs for the Shire’s 11 pools and spas in council-run swimming centres at Sutherland, Engadine, and Caringbah, some of which rely on natural gas for heating.
The increase follows six months of tendering negotiations between the council and the state’s two energy suppliers, Origin Energy and AGL, for a new energy contract.
The council was unable to secure quotes from the companies until March, weeks before its existing contract with Origin was due to expire on March 31, a spokeswoman said.
The council decided to re-sign with Origin, accepting the 220 per cent increase, as it was the cheapest quote presented to the council, the spokeswoman said.
The price hike comes amid a national debate over Australia’s looming gas shortage and spiralling energy costs, and follows a warning last month from the Australian Energy Markets Operator that eastern states would face blackouts unless something was done to secure gas supplies.
In a bid to find savings, the council is now considering immediately hiking the general pool admission by an average of $1.30 across the three centres, reducing the $40,000 heating bill by lowering pool temperatures by one degree, and closing the Engadine swimming pool during the winter months.
The council is also considering charging the Department of Education for its access to its swimming centres to run its Learn to Swim Programs for children, bringing it into line with other councils across Sydney.
Currently, the council provides the department with free access to its pools, which adds about $40,000 to the council’s gas cost.
“Whether the department chooses to absorb the cost of entry, or pass it on to families is a matter for them,” the spokeswoman said.
Cr Pesce said the elected council would discuss the proposed savings measures at Tuesday’s council meeting, but said no decision would be made until feedback was sought from the community.
“We need to go to consultation with the community first. We don’t want to make a drastic change without consulting them.”
Origin Energy spokesman Ryan Auger said he could not comment on the specifics of the Sutherland Shire’s contract, but said the company would “work worth with the council to manage their consumption and ongoing supply arrangements”.