Byron Shire general manager Ken Gainger has contacted The Echo in an effort to address complaints about the shire’s controversial plan to raise rates above the state cap.
At its December meeting, council resolved to ‘lodge a notice of intent to apply for a Special Rate Variation (SRV) from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART)’, although it is yet to determine how much of an increase it will apply for.
That decision will not be taken until February.
Meanwhile both Echonetdaily and The Byron Echo have been inundated with letters opposing the plan.
Mr Gainger has denied staff are leading councillors ‘by the nose’ by to adopt the plan and that they have been ‘lazy’ in not considering ways of making visitors pay their fare share, such as an ‘Airbnb’ tax or extending paid parking to other towns.
He has denied Byron’s rates are ‘among the highest in the state’ and said that in fact they are ‘among the lowest in the region’.
Mr Gainger also said that changes in the valuer-general’s land valuations, which have led to rate increases in some parts of the shire have had the opposite effect in others.
He has also reiterated that unless council increases its rates base significantly it will likely fail the state government’s ‘fit for the future’ test and be slated for amalgamation.
Mr Gainger’s points appear in full below.
Why are ratepayers being asked to foot the bill and not visitors?
While council has now informed the IPART that it intends applying for a Special Rate Variation it has also asked staff to explore how additional funds can be raised from tourist levies, local businesses that profit from tourists, and holiday let establishments. Staff will report back to council in February before the council determines the level of rate increase that it applies for.
Why wasn’t a ‘no rate rise’ option considered?
It was clear to the council that such an option was not feasible given the extent of council’s infrastructure backlog and the requirement to meet the seven performance benchmarks set by the state government/IPART.
Council has been lazy in not exploring alternatives to a rate rise.
Over the past four years council has slashed the number of senior staff and reduced staff salaries, significantly improved operating efficiencies, raised new revenue through paid parking and property sales, saved $300,000 per year in smarter procurement, refinanced loans and paid down debt, slashed council’s legal costs, and established a new infrastructure fund.
We already pay some of the highest rates in the state.
Council’s general rates are among the lowest in the region and other councils of similar size in NSW.
As a result of the valuer-general’s re-valuations, rates have increased substantially across the shire
Despite new valuations council’s overall rate yield has not increased beyond the rate peg level. While some property rates have gone up beyond the rate peg because of revaluations this is offset by other properties’ rates going down because of a drop in valuation.
New staff and road machinery has already been procured.
No it hasn’t.
Councillors were not aware of the SRV financial detail.
Staff and councillors have been working through potential SRV scenarios for the past two years, with significant financial detail discussed during a series of strategic planning workshops. To suggest that councillors blindly follow staff recommendations is disrespectful to our hard-working councillors.
Council should spread pay parking to other towns
Council recently extended pay parking to Wategos. Council has also undertaken parking studies for Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and Belongil. These studies will be reported to council over the next 12 months and consultation will be undertaken with those communities on parking management options.
For more information on the proposed rates increase go to Byron Shire Council’s website www.byron.nsw.gov.au