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Former Byron councillor offers new team some advice

Byron Shire Cr Duncan Dey wants council to back the Mullumbimby Hospital Action Group in its bid to keep the hospital land for aged-care related and community services.

Former Byron Shire Cr Duncan Dey offers some tips for the new crop of incoming councillors. File photo

Aslan Shand

Owing to his wealth of council knowledge, The Echo asked recently retired two-term Greens councillor Duncan Dey his thoughts on some of the big issues facing the Shire.

Raising rates via a special rates variation (SRV) has been looming over the Byron Shire Council since the state government threatened all NSW councils with amalgamation if they weren’t financially Fit For the Future (FFF).

The biggest hurdle for Council is its failing roads.

Roads are one asset that will always cost the council money and the more people using them the faster they degrade.

Dey says, ‘You need to maintain them. There are large amounts of traffic both from tourists and the large amount of unapproved accommodation that has been created over the years.

‘Roads are deteriorating at a much higher rate than other assets because of the large and increasing resident numbers, tourists because there is no public transport – to live in the Shire you must own your own car.’

Having served as a councillor from 2002 to 2004 and a second term from 2012 to 2016, Dey has had plenty of experience working out where Council spends its finite pool of money.

‘As far as I understand it from Council staff, historically the quality of the roads has deteriorated because from the small amount of money the Shire has to spend it has also diminished the portion being spent on roads.

‘Maintaining a new road is far cheaper than an old one.

‘This fact combined with the level of traffic on a road will determine where it stands in the queue for repairs.

‘Currently the council is working towards an asset management system that rates the roads from a high asset, in good condition, to a low asset.

‘Once it gets to the bottom class – it’s a basket case,’ said Dey. ‘A low-class asset is a road that will need to be rebuilt’. This road then becomes a long term project because rather than being $7/m2 to fix ‘it is hundreds of thousands of dollars.’

SRV only option

‘Because local government is the tail on the dog of state government and has to follow state government legislation, a SRV is the only option that a council controls to raise extra funds.

‘Council made the financial changes and promises to get us over the line as part of the FFF agreement. One of the promises made was the SRV. The new council shouldn’t be blamed for the current situation.’

Nonetheless, Dey says he wouldn’t be voting for the SRV unless it was combined with a range of other measures.

‘If I were on Council, I would be saying to the general manager that unless the SRV is part of a package of endeavours that included:

‘First: raising parking fees in Byron from $3 to $4 an hour – which could raise something like a million dollars.

‘Second: a bed tax. Council should pursue that until their knuckles are worn off. There is also an alternative to bed tax, which is to try to increase rates for businesses involved in tourism.

‘Third: currently rates are based on the unimproved value of land. Council should be beating its little drum to make rates based on the improved value of land.

‘If these weren’t part of a range of strategic policies then I wouldn’t vote for it.’

Tourists

Complaints have been coming fast following New Years Eve and the Falls Festival focusing on illegal camping and the rubbish left behind.

‘This is an ongoing issue. Council has regulations and signage for no camping,’ says Dey. ‘We could just build toilets at areas we know people are camping illegally or we could create enough spaces and charge money to camp.

‘If not, we have to have enough enforcers to stop the illegal camping. Rangers need to charge fines.’

Bypass

As the tourists flow in the question of the Byron bypass continues to simmer in the background.

According to Dey, it will be in the courts for some time to come and the longer it spends there the less likely it is the bypass will be built.

Predicted to reduce traffic in the congested Byron CBD by just 18 per cent, the bypass has a long controversial history. Though Dey supported it when on Council; he saw it as part of a range of solutions rather than a solution in its own right.

‘It’s not the answer to traffic. Traffic is in such a state of chaos that it will only ever be dealt with through a suite of changes.

‘The old paradigm – the dinosaur answer to road congestion – is to build more roads. Australians have yet to wake up to demand management in regards to driving their cars. So, in his wisdom, the previous MP for Ballina Don Page made his swan song the $10 million funding of the Byron bypass.

‘But now it will cost more and may need to be scrapped. I predict that when it finally becomes shovel-ready, the cost will be so high that councillors will have to think twice before it goes ahead.’

Other solutions would range from public transport and park and ride through to shared and pedestrian zones.

‘I see no reason why Jonson Street shouldn’t be a pedestrian zone,’ said Dey.

The future

With a new council finding its feet, Dey hopes that they will remember to listen and respond to the community.

‘My hope is that they listen to their community.

‘They can’t just go for the result; they have got to cherish the process and take their community with them.

‘Secondly, I would like them to resolve the conflicts between the coastal real estate and nice beaches; you can’t have both. My priority is the beaches. We can look after the landholders – but that may not include what they clamour for.

‘Thirdly, I’d like them to establish industries that aren’t based on tourism, but are based on our attributes, for example niche food production.’

Finally, what would make this council remarkable?

‘Infrastructure. Score us some public transport. Get the states to pay for the public roads. The gem would be public transport – it would be great to get the train going.’


9 responses to “Former Byron councillor offers new team some advice”

  1. jens krause says:

    We have 2% of our sealed road assets in the bottom class and 11% on the second of the botom class. Council makes provisions for the deterioaration. It’s called depreciation. Council also funds the full amount of budgeted maintenance. So what I am reading above, is not backed by facts. We allways want more, but council has in the last two years lived within its means and can continue without a special rate variation. The General revenue form rates have been assisted by the paid parking revenue in the order of 10 to 15%, money to be used on roads.

    If we had a bed tax, the SRV would be off the table completely. To combine those two, as Duncan suggests, is nonsensical. Persue the bed tax and other measures over the next 12 months and then look afresh at the financial requirements.

    THe shear enormity of this rate variation is gobsmacking. It is PERMANENT and wants to raise up to 100 Million dollars extra over the next 10 years. The current SVR proposal is a killer for most people along the coast, who would pay through their nose. It will kill the communities of Byron Bay, Suffolk Park and Brunswick Heads.

  2. Peter Gough says:

    All very wise suggestions from Duncan. We need to pursue all of his suggested options, especially bed taxes, tourist business taxes and improved value rates. The whole community must confront the state government and not let up.

  3. Patricia Warren says:

    Definitely pursue a Tourist Levy given our rateable base is 15,000 properties. However, this is needs an amendment to the Local Government Act and will depend on successfuly lobbying directly to Minister Toole. It should not be left to Council alone to lobby for this but rather here is an opportunity for Shire wide community organisation to lobby directly to the Minister. Furthermore, it is not only Byron Council that is experiencing this impost. Residents in those Council areas should also be encouraged to directly lobby as well proving this such an amendment has wider support.
    There is also a list of rate exempt properties under Sections 555 and 556 of the Local Government Act that need to have their status reviewed. The value judgement underpinning these exemptions needs to be scrutinised.
    As for changing the ratebable value of a property to improved capital value that is going to be thwart with problems. Whilst it certainly will capture the current non-rateable secondary dwellings, it certainly will encourage people to let the external visual appearance of their property deteriorate relative to that of the neighbourhood.
    Regrettably, it would seem the days of free parking have finished for places throughout the Shire? Whilst I loathe the concept of paid parking, unless the tax base for Council revenue is broadened then rate rises will be inevitable.

  4. Len Heggarty says:

    We have a notice of warning from the GM Ken Gainger that there is a backlog in the infrastructure.
    Elsewhere we have commentators saying that everywhere in the state there is a backlog in infrastructure.
    That is where I see the problem.
    We need stronger people who will fix the infrastructure and change a lackadaisical attitude. The problem is that Councillors need to be stronger in their intension to spend what money on the infrastructure and stick to that Plan. The money for infrastructure has to be sidetracked when the infrastructure is not up to date.
    I remind you the Federal government has the same problem.
    We have a debt and that debt came to fruition in about 2010 and no one wants to go for Surplus. The Federal debt has blown out again after the Turnbull government said that the Surplus will be reached in 2020/21. That time has blown out as the debt has increased. Councils are the same. Just why is there an infrastructure backlog in Byron Council?
    It has to be that money gets railroaded somewhere else. Did the people vote in a strong Council to fix the infrastructure?

    • jens krause says:

      Len, In the past I have used the comparison with other shires in regards to the backlog problem, but for one reason only. That is that the backlog problem is not seen by the State Government as a primary reason for amalgamation.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment for sticking to a plan to fix the backlog.

  5. John says:

    When Council’s policy for STRA (holiday lets) is accepted and all holiday lets have to be DA approved then they will have to be charged a commercial rate as they are businesses.

  6. Sol Ibrahim says:

    The state of our roads and bridges are of course very important, but there are other matters which a Council must also be concerned with. Parking charges can affect local businesses which in turn support local households. There is a point at which higher parking fees will impact on small business sales, especially out of the peak season. Worker hours will be the first thing that will be reduced in response.

    Much of our road and bridge infrastructure backlog is rural, and therefore not caused or exacerbated by tourists coming to Byron Bay, Bangalow or Brunswick Heads. We have hundreds of unapproved dwellings and sewage systems in our rural areas that Council has turned a blind eye to for decades. These dwellings earn rent for their owners, but have never contributed to roads or rates revenue. Attempts at formalizing these rural residential developments are met with fears of over-development. So they continue to be built at the expense of the rate paying majority.

    Council’s capacity to raise income is severely restricted by NSW law. Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as a local government bed tax. State Government has been lobbied for decades about this. Governments of both persuasions have detailed their reasons for rejecting the idea. By all means we should continue to lobby. However, Byron Council can’t implement a bed or tourist tax unilaterally.

    An 18% reduction in traffic flow might seem not much, but the bypass will have a major effect at certain times. It’s akin to saying a 2 degree warming of the climate is only a small increase. It is the effect on the frequency of extremes that matters. The bypass will reduce banking traffic on many occasions. Sure, not at the highest peak times, but at many other times. Furthermore, the Bypass is not just for incoming traffic. Locals living south of Byron will attest to the long lines of cars trying to get out every morning. The bypass will alleviate the ridiculous situation of having to drive through the CBD to get out of town.

    Increasing business rates as a way of raising total rates revenue is not permitted by Law. It is the total rate income that is controlled by the NSW Government, not how various rate categories can be applied. If you increase business rates, you must reduce other rates accordingly. Byron business rates are already much higher than residential rates. Local businesses are struggling to pay huge rents, and any rate increases are very likely going to flow on in full to them. Residential rents are also very high compared to income in most of the Shire. Major rates increases will ultimately flow to higher rents.

    Each successive wave of Shire residents jealously guards the small town character that they have come here to love. Attempts to increase population and density are almost always met with fierce resistance. The same often occurs with proposals commercial / industrial developments, despite calls for new employment opportunities. Consequently, the number of new rate paying properties has hardly grown in the past 15 years compared to our neighbouring Councils. Successive Byron Councils have avoided even small SRV’s. Whilst I think 12.5% compounding over 4 years is excessive (60% increase by the fourth year!), I think a smaller SRV coupled with measures to sensitively increase our rate base is justified.

  7. Milton says:

    Get the train going? My kind of guy.

  8. David Michie says:

    According to Ken Gainger:

    “A bed tax cannot be introduced and given that 700,000 of our annual visitations are SE QLD day-trippers who do not stay overnight, such a tax would struggle to raise $200k pa. Similarly, tinkering with pay-parking revenue will only raise marginal additional revenue.”

    http://www.echo.net.au/2016/12/byron-gm-maintains-hard-line-rate-rise/

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