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Council opt not to apply for special rate variation

Bland Shire Council has resisted a push to apply for a special rate variation to fund increased maintenance on local roads.

After an extensive consultation process in which the community indicated its objection to an initial proposal to increase rates by 10 per cent above rate pegging per year for the next five years, Council opted not to apply to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for any special rate variation at its December monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

Prior to considering the proposal, Council distributed 3012 information packages to every ratepayer in the Shire with a reply paid form seeking community opinion. Of the 189 responses received (a 6.27% response rate) only 22 per cent supported the proposal for a 10 per cent increase over five years while 69 per cent supported an increase of the rate pegging limit set by the State Government only (1.8 per cent in 2016-2017).

An independent telephone survey conducted by Micromex Research polled 301 randomly selected residents on their awareness and support of the proposal and just over one third of respondents indicated support for the 10 per cent special rate variation proposal. The survey sample was weighted by age and gender to reflect an accurate representation of the community in accordance with the 2011 ABS Census data.

The telephone survey also showed that 75 per cent of residents were aware of the special rate variation proposal prior to receiving the phone call and the high level of community awareness and knowledge was commented on by Micromex as being an outstanding result.

“When Council released the information package and in all subsequent advertising and promotion, Council emphasised that the intention of the process was to get input from the community,” Director of Corporate, Community and Development Services, Adele Casey said.

“That input was received and showed that generally the community felt it was too large of an increase.”

The 10 percent special rate variation over five years would have raised approximately $11 million in additional rates revenue over five years, which had all been earmarked to be spent on the Shire’s ageing road network.

Taking into account the sentiments of the community, Council’s General Manager, Ray Smith, presented a series of alternative special rate variation options for Council to consider at its December meeting including a 2.5 per cent, 5 per cent and 7.5 per cent increase above the rate pegging limit set by the State Government.

A series of financial scenarios were presented to the meeting with commentary on the potential impacts of each option.

The meeting was told that without any special rate variation, Council will incur an estimated paper deficit of between $4.3 million and $4.6 million in each of the next five years and will have to make some dramatic cuts across the organisation which would have a noticeable effect on service delivery and include options such as the sale of assets, reduced service delivery across all non funded areas and increased user fees and charges.

As a result, Council has commenced an internal review of expenses across all areas of the organisation and will seek to reduce its budget by approximately $1 million in 2016-2017.

The decision by IPART earlier this month to set the maximum rate increase allowed by Council’s in 2016-2017 (without a special rate variation) at 1.8 per cent has compounded the challenges already faced by Bland Shire Council.

While Council can only collect an additional 1.8 per cent from rates in 2016-201, Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW) president Keith Rhoades reports there has been in increase of 2.4 per cent in employee benefits and on costs, an increase of 5.1 per cent in other business service costs and an increase of 3.6 per cent in plant and equipment costs.

Cr Rhoades also revealed that the latest LGNSW cost shifting survey shows that cost shifting from the State Government is costing NSW Local Government $670 billion per year.

Meanwhile, Councils across the state continue to wait for an announcement from the State Government regarding their future. The State Government is considering a series of measures, including forced amalgamations, as part of its Fit for the Future program for local government reform.

While the Government has previously suggested a potential merger with Coolamon and/or Temora Shire, Bland Shire Council is fighting to stand alone and like all of its neighbours is nervously awaiting an announcement from the Premier to provide a clearer view of its future.