Byron Shire Greens mayor Simon Richardson has admitted that ‘it may not be a popular conversation to have with our 15,500 ratepayers’ but blames the need for a special rate variation on the state government’s ‘unrealistic rate-pegging’ regime.
The council has flagged that it is a requirement of its Fit for the Future plan that rates increase in each of the next three years; the question is only by how much.
In the next week, ratepayers will receive a catchy-titled booklet, Funding our Future, which will outline the three options. They are: 7.5 per cent, 10 per cent and 12.5 per cent – which council’s sales pitch has respectively dubbed ‘deteriorate’, ‘maintain’ and ‘improve’.
Each of the options includes the estimated rate peg of 2.5 per cent.
With many of Byron Shire’s roads now at third-world standards, the council says only the highest option of 12.5 per cent would see any dramatic improvement in the state of infrastructure over the period.
For an average residential ratepayer, paying about $1,139 per year, this equates to an increase in the first year of $85 at 7.5 per cent, $114 at 10 per cent and $142 at 12.5 per cent.
The council would also borrow an additional $6 million over the four-year period to help reconstruct its failing bridge network.
Mayor Richardson said the various options had the potential to raise between $16.5 million and $28 million over the four-year period and this funding would go ‘straight into infrastructure.’
‘We know our roads, drainage, footpaths, buildings and public amenities are not satisfactory,’ he said.
‘In fact, it’s no surprise that 92 per cent of residents who participated in a recent community survey told us that sealed urban roads should be our top priority infrastructure asset.
‘Whilst our efforts in the last four years have clearly shown our commitment to solving this problem – with additional funding being raised from internal savings efficiencies, rationalizing under-utilised assets and generating new income through pay parking – it’s still not enough.
‘It may not be a popular conversation to have with our 15,500 ratepayers. However, we need to be firmly focused on our financial sustainability and how we support our ageing infrastructure.
Continued deterioration unacceptable
‘We’ve not had a special rate variation since 2008/09 and continued unrealistic rate capping levels has meant that our costs of operation routinely exceed our major revenue source.
‘Without a rate rise, our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and we cannot afford to let this happen,’ mayor Richardson said.
According to the council, option 1 at 7.5 per cent ‘still sees some of the council assets continuing to deteriorate and the focus would remain on high, poor condition assets.’
It says that option 2, at 10 per cent, ‘would stop the deterioration of assets and funding would be channelled into essential maintenance and renewal programs.’
At 12.5 per cent, option 3 ‘would see assets gradually improve and council have the ability to fund some new assets,’ the council document claims.
But there’s a further sting in the tail for ratepayers: at the end of the four-year period, the Special Rate Variation increase would be built into the general rate base and permanently retained.
Selling the pitch
Byron Shire staff will be out and about spruiking the benefits at Farmers Markets over the next four weeks and also at Ocean Shores Shopping Centre and outside the Suffolk Park Spar.
Days and times are listed within the booklet or at www.byron.nsw.gov.au/funding-our-future.
Non ratepayers who would like have an information booklet posted can call Byron Shire Council on 6626 7249.