The local government sector has slammed the NSW Government as ‘disingenuous’ for linking rate increases granted by IPART to its push for council amalgamations.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades AFSM said the government was using a problem created by it and its predecessors to justify the ideologically-driven agenda of forced council amalgamations.
‘It is this government that set the Fit for the Future financial benchmarks which councils are now scrambling to meet via the rate variations he is so quick to attack,’ Clr Rhoades said.
‘Rate-pegging maintained by this and previous governments has choked council revenue for decades.
‘Yet at the same time cost shifting has moved funding responsibility for infrastructure and services off state government books, and onto the shoulders of local government.
‘The rate variations granted by IPART would simply not have been necessary without years and years of rate pegging and cost shifting, or if governments had not failed to address the myriad of other problems with the local government funding model.’
Clr Rhoades said it was particularly interesting for Mr Toole to express alarm about rates now, at the very time the Baird government was moving to force council amalgamations.
The Baird/Toole Fit for the Future package actually offers council an easier process to increase rates as an incentive to amalgamate,’ he said.
‘It’s disingenuous, and it’s duplicitous, and it shows a real contempt for the wishes of local communities,’ he said.
‘State government created this problem, and now they’re using it as cover for their hidden agenda.’
Clr Rhoades said local government minister Paul Toole appeared to have admitted to one Sydney radio station he was using these long overdue rate rises to justify council amalgamations.
‘He’s been a bit more discreet in other interviews, simply saying that the rate rises underline the need for change,’ Cr Rhoades said.
‘What he hasn’t been able to show is how forced amalgamations and will change the resourcing Catch 22 in which councils find themselves.
‘The best he has been able to offer is to say mega councils will have better access to loans.
‘But loans still have to be paid back, and rates will still have to rise to service those loans, so there’s no benefit to ratepayers there.’
Mr Rhoades said it had been estimated that forced amalgamations by the NSW Government would actually cost ratepayers an additional $445 million.
‘Moreover, a number of councils have told us they believe amalgamation will actually lead to more rate rises, because rates will have to rise to cover any infrastructure backlogs in neighbouring councils with which they may be forced to merge.’
‘The government and the minister is being incredibly duplicitous: using a longstanding funding problem as cover for an ideologically-driven move to increase control over local communities and neighbourhoods.
‘What we should all be asking is who wins in this scenario? It’s not residents and ratepayers, no matter what the minister might be claiming today.’