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Special Rate Variation proposal to improve local roads

Bland Shire Council is seeking comment from the community regarding a proposed special rate variation which will raise an average of $2.26 million per year over the next five years for increased maintenance on local roads.

Bland Shire Council General Manager, Ray Smith announced the proposal yesterday at a series of Council community forums held in the Bland Shire villages of Barmedman, Mirrool, Weethalle and Ungarie where the declining condition of the rural road network was once again a hot topic of discussion.

Council is proposing a special rate variation (SRV) of 10 per cent per year for the next five years over and above the rate pegging limit (2.4 per cent in 2015-16) set by the State Government.

The proposal will raise an estimated cumulative $11,254,898 over the next five years, including an additional $614,835 in 2016-2017 and an extra $4.12 million per year by 2020-2021 which will all be spent on the local road network.

Council is experiencing a growing gap between the cost of providing services and facilities and the available funding to meet those costs.

Faced with the task of maintaining the second longest road network of any Council in NSW (3237 kilometres), frozen Federal grant funding and a long term “cap” set by the State Government - known as rate pegging - on Council’s ability to increase income from rates to keep pace with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Council is underfunded to be able to meet service levels or community expectations on rural roads in particular.

The SRV will enable Council to meet service levels on all roads. All of the funding in the first three years will be used for gravel resheeting on rural access roads and access lanes (Class 5 roads under Council’s roads hierarchy).

An access lane provides secondary access to adjoining residential properties while a rural access road is a road that provides direct access to adjoining rural and/or rural residential properties. Without a SRV, Council does not have sufficient funds to allocate to gravel resheeting on Class 5 roads beyond this financial year.

Under Council’s SRV proposal, additional funds will also be allocated to reseals on rural sealed roads and resheeting on class three (urban street and principal rural roads) and four (rural collector) roads.

Increased financial pressures on Local Government has led to almost three quarters (108) of New South Wales Councils receiving approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for a special rate variation in the last five years.

While Bland Shire Council has managed to avoid having to consider making an application up until now, Mr Smith said the Commonwealth Government’s decision to freeze the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants and Roads to Recovery funding had left Council with no alternative. The frozen funding will cost Bland Shire an estimated $820,752 in grant funding which had been earmarked for local roads.

Council is presenting two options to the community for consideration, which are outlined in more detail in an information pack which will be posted to all ratepayers as well as being uploaded to Council’s website at www.blandshire.nsw.gov.au

Option one proposes a rates increase above the rate pegging limit of 10 per cent per year to improve the local road network.

Under this option rates would increase by approximately 12.5 per cent each year for five years, which would enable Council services to be maintained and current road infrastructure renewed to a satisfactory level and maintained in that condition. This increase includes an estimated 2.5 per cent rate peg.

Ratepayers who are currently paying around $1600 per year would pay, on average, an additional $4.94 per week over this five year period. This would mean that by 2020/2021 the annual rate charge would be $2883 (or a quarterly charge of $720.75).

The special rate variation applies to general rates only and does not include other annual fees and charges which appear on rates notices such as sewerage and garbage.

Option two is to increase rates only by the rate pegging limit set by the State Government each year (approximately 2.5 per cent) which will result in a reduction in service levels and deterioration of Council and community assets. Under this option, residential ratepayers who are paying around $1600 per year would pay, on average, an additional $0.81 per week over this five year period. After five years, this would amount to an annual charge of $1810 by 2020/2021 (or a quarterly charge of $452.50).

There are a number of ways the community can provide input into the SRV proposal.

The information packs being distributed to every ratepayer in the Bland Shire include a reply paid form on which people can indicate a preference for options one or two as outlined above and make any additional comments.

Later this month Micromex Research will conduct a telephone survey of a random representative sample of 300 Bland Shire residents to ask questions about Bland Shire Council, including a preference for options one and two as outlined above. The survey results will also be utilised by Council as a key planning tool when developing its Community Strategic Plan in 2016 and residents who are contacted are strongly encouraged to participate.

Community members are also invited to make a written submission to Council in regards to the SRV proposal or any other Council matter. Signed written submissions should be addressed to The General Manager, Bland Shire Council, PO Box 21, West Wyalong, NSW, 2671.

All feedback from the community relating to the SRV proposal will be presented to Council for consideration before it formally considers whether to apply to IPART for a SRV in December.