Over the last few weeks Byron Labor has called for residents across the shire to let our local councilors know that we do not support a 60 per cent increase to our rates.
It was strange to read in the Byron Shire Echo this week a response to that call from council’s general manager. Given the importance of this issue to local residents and the political nature of the conversation, I would have though it more appropriate for our recently reelected mayor to respond from council’s perspective, rather than a staff member.
The general manager’s response has demonstrated the narrow and lazy policy response to our crumbling infrastructure. After 10 years of inaction, knowing the situation with our roads, parks and playgrounds, the best that council leadership can come up with is a 60 per cent rate hike for residents.
We acknowledge that, as argued by the general manager, there is a difference between a ‘special rate variation’ and a ‘special rate’ for businesses.
But, why not do both as Byron Labor have proposed? Increase the overall pool of rate income through a ‘special rate variation’ but then ensure that the burden of increased rates falls onto businesses who benefit from tourism, rather than residents, through an increased ‘special rate’?
Also, increasing the number of business rate payers by including holiday lets, AirBnB and other short term rentals would increase our revenue, a defacto bed tax. Additional revenue could be gained from increasing parking fees at popular tourist locations like Main Beach and Wategos.
For those concerned about local businesses being squeezed, Byron council could consider a local small business rate rebate to protect and encourage locally owned and run small businesses.
Lets get smart about how to fix our infrastructure problems, not jump to a short term, simplistic answers that will hit low income residents the hardest. Byron Labor says no to a 60 per cent increase in our rates, will you?
Asren Pugh, acting secretary, Byron Labor