Up for discussion and voting by the new crop of Byron Shire councillors at their first official meeting this Thursday will be a proposal by staff to increase rates with a special variation of 12.5 per cent over four years.
This includes the estimated 2.5 per cent rate peg.
The need for more cash for council, says director of corporate and community services Mark Arnold, is owing to a commitment to the state government’s Fit for the Future program and the need to maintain and improve infrastructure.
Neighbouring Kyogle and Clarence Valley councils were considered ‘unfit’ for the future by the state government in October last year; however, Byron Shire was found to be fit.
Mr Arnold says in his report in this week’s agenda that a ‘key component of the Fit for the Future program was the requirement for each council to prepare and submit a Council Improvement Plan (CIP).’
Byron Shire Council’s adopted plan contains six key improvement strategies, he wrote.
They are: ‘Pursuing new, recurrent revenues such as pay parking, asset realisation (sale and development of land), increasing rates beyond the rate peg in future years, efficiency savings through strategic procurement initiatives, continuation of savings generated through operating efficiencies and significant increase in expenditure on infrastructure such as roads.’
One of the underpinnings for the rate rise, Mr Arnold says, is that ‘community satisfaction surveys conducted in 2013 and 2016 showed that residents of the Byron Shire thought road maintenance was within the top three priority issues for the Shire.’
Councillors have been presented with three options: The first is to do nothing and apply the estimated 2.5 per cent rate peg (classed as ‘deteriorate’).
The second is to implement a special rate variation of 7.5 per cent, each year, for four years (classed as ‘maintain’) and the third option is to apply a special rate variation of 12.5 per cent each year for four years (classed as ‘improve’).
The potential result of a proposed rate increase of 12.5 per cent ‘will see a potential approximate $22,254,000 raised over a four-year period.’
Mr Arnold also warned that if the council was considered ‘not’ Fit for the Future, it could be ‘considered as a possible amalgamation target.’
‘If a decision is made to not introduce a special rate variation… council will have some difficult decisions to make concerning a reduction in services, maintenance and facilities.’
Community consultation and awareness regarding the special rate variation is planned, with a handout booklet for ratepayers via the October rates notice which the council distributes. Consultation will also include a random telephone survey ‘of a representative sample of 400 local residents.’
Submissions and online surveys will be sought, while information stands will be available at markets and through print and electronic media and presentations to the business and community roundtable.’