The sheen is already coming off the recently elected progressive Byron Shire Council, with Byron Labor attacking the Greens-led council over its proposed major rate increases and its handling of negotiations with the state government to purchase the Suffolk Park sports field.
Acting secretary of Byron Bay Labor, Asren Pugh, has effectively lobbed a hand grenade into the middle of the council chambers, accusing ‘recent and current council leadership’, including current and previous Greens mayors Simon Richardson and Jan Barham, of being ‘unable to deliver for our shire.’
But he goes further, saying the Greens have ‘terrible relationships’ with state and federal governments, are ‘simply ignored’, and are ‘unable to lobby effectively’.
As a case in point, Mr Pugh criticised the mayor’s negotiations for Byron council to purchase the Suffolk Park sports field for $900,000, telling Echonetdaily that if they had been properly conducted Labor’s policy to see the land gifted to the community could have been achieved.
‘This is why you need people leading council who have some access to governments and an ability to effectively negotiate with them,’ he said.
Low income residents hit
Mr Pugh said a rate rise of more than 60 per cent would ‘have a major impact on the cost of living for low income residents of our shire.’
‘While it is clear that Byron needs to be able to raise more money to invest in community infrastructure, it should not be done by slugging residents with by far the highest rates in the region,’ he added.
‘One of the council staff at an “information stall” recently estimated that council spends 30 per cent of ratepayers’ money on supporting tourists.’
Rather than excessive rate rises for residents Labor says the council should consider:
- Significantly increasing rates for commercial properties, as well as Byron CBD commercial properties
- Ensure that properties used as short-term accommodation, holiday lets or Airbnb, for more than three months of the year are classified as businesses and included in the increased business rates, creating a de facto bed tax;
- Increase parking fees in specific areas, such as Main Beach car park or Wategoes
- Investigating other opportunities to raise money from tourists
Mr Pugh said these are ‘all within the power of council to achieve and would help limit the impact on local ratepayers.’
‘This drastic rate increase clearly shows the lack of leadership and responsible financial management over the past decade or so,’ he said.
‘How did previous councils, under Greens leadership, manage to allow our infrastructure to get into such a parlous state?
‘Despite years of discussions around bed taxes and special infrastructure grants, it is also clear that recent and current council leadership has been unable to deliver for our shire.
‘They have terrible relationships with state and federal governments, or are simply ignored, and are unable to lobby effectively on behalf of the shire.
‘And now it is local ratepayers that have to cough up for this failure,’ Mr Pugh said.
Echonetdaily has approached Byron mayor Simon Richardson for comment.