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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Labor’s last-ditch bid to stop Byron rate rise

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Byron Shire Labor councillor Paul Spooner says 'the case has not effectively been made' for a special rate rise in the shire. Photo Eve Jeffery
Byron Shire Labor councillor Paul Spooner says ‘the case has not effectively been made’ for a special rate rise in the shire. Photo Eve Jeffery

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire ALP councillor Paul Spooner says the case has ‘not effectively been made’ for a special rates increase in Byron Shire and is calling on fellow councillors to delay any increase for at least a year.

Councillors Cate Coorey (independent) and Alan Hunter (Nationals) have also expressed concern at the plan, with Cr Coorey telling Echonetdaily the proposal ‘hasn’t been presented well’ and Cr Hunter saying he doesn’t ‘trust this council to deal with it properly.’

And the rise could conceivably be in jeopardy: if all three councillors, plus Cr Spooner’s Labor colleague Jan Hackett voted against it, they would only need support from deputy mayor Basil Cameron* or one Greens councillor to prevent the rise.

Cr Spooner said that after considering the more than 2,500 responses made by residents through submissions, surveys and council information stands, ‘there is no mandate for a rate rise over the next four years’.

The shire’s GM Ken Gainger has proposed a Special Rate Variation (SRV) of between 33.5 per cent and 60.5 per cent over the coming four years.

But Cr Spooner told Echonetdaily that ‘this is one of the most extensive consultations we’ve undertaken’ and ‘the Byron Shire community has clearly said no’ to the rate rises.

‘You cannot say on any level that this has been endorsed,’ he added.

Amalgamation threat over

Mr Gainger previously told the Echo that Byron council could be in danger of amalgamation if the SRV was not adopted

But Cr Spooner said that since the Orange by-election and the ascension of premier Berjiklian that threat had abated.

‘Given the shifts in politics in NSW, any fears of forced amalgamation are unfounded,’ he said.

‘Byron was declared fit for the future. We do need to ensure we are financially viable but I’m suggesting we take a bit more time before we impose one of the most regressive financial measures that has ever been proposed in this shire on our residents.’

He added that no group had stood for council on a platform of raising rates.

‘There was no mandate to increase rates at the last council election and there is no mandate evident through the most extensive community consultation process ever undertaken by council.’

‘I am calling on council to delay any decision about raising rates for at least 12 months. This will enable a greater level of due diligence to be applied to a rate increase proposal of this magnitude.’

‘This is one of the biggest decisions taken by council over the last decade and will have a profound effect on residents over the decade to come.

‘What I would ask is this – why would the most progressive council in the country implement one of the most regressive financial plans in its history without giving alternative financial plans a thorough investigation?’

Infrastructure

Cr Spooner denied that ‘pushing the pause button’ would see roads in the shire deteriorate further.

‘We’ve spent more on infrastructure maintenance in the last 12 months than for quite some time – and that’s without a rate rise [which] proves that efficiency can be achieved.

‘I think that’s a good direction to go in and that the community is asking us to push that a bit further.’

He added that Byron regularly missed out on state and federal road funding grants due to lack of a proper plan.

‘We need to have an infrastructure plan in place that can easily be articulated when those opportunities come up.’

‘Surrounding councils have demonstrated that it is possible to get those grant funds.

‘I think we need to review our approach to both federal and state governments,’ he told Echonetdaily.

Inconsistencies

Cr Coorey told Echonetdaily that while she had yet to decide which way she would vote, the issue ‘hasn’t been presented well’ to the community and there were ‘a lot of inconsistencies’ in the plan.

‘We need a better package than this, and there is enough confusion to give councillors some pause for thought,’ she said.

Cr Hunter, meanwhile, said he wanted to ‘kill’ the proposal.

‘I don’t trust these councillors to deal with [the additional revenue] properly,’ he said.

The mayor’s priorities have nothing to do with the priorities of the community: roads, parks and storm water.

‘Roads are the most important thing for the community and until we get an ironclad commitment the increased rates will be used to fix the problems we’ve identified, it’s like giving more alcohol to drunks,’ he said.

Alternatives

Alternative options canvassed by Cr Spooner include:

  • Increase paid parking in Byron Bay to $4 an hour to generate an additional $1.2 million per year;
  • Identify alternative financial measures to remedy the council budget through a review of the Council Improvement Plan e.g. increase the level of council’s loan borrowings;
  • Address the lack of council income collected from holiday letting businesses;
  • Revise the rate split between residents, businesses and farmlands;
  • Submit a proposal to the state government to enable the implementation of a tourism levy or bed tax in the Byron Shire

* Cr Cameron did not respond to Echonetdaily’s call by deadline


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Readers need to make their objection to the proposed rate rise visible with attendance at Thursday’s Council meeting!
    IPART has pegged the General Rate increase to 1.5% for the incoming financial year. There should be no application for a Special Rate Variation until options are considered, including the Minister’s decision on IPART’s Rate Review which was delivered to the Minister December 2016.
    Byron Shire Council has 13,100 residentail rateable properties supporting in part a $400m tourist industry. If anyone can justify the subsidisation of that industry by a small rateable base then it is time for those directly benefiting to advocate and let their arguments, which will have to be based now in substantibe evidence, be scrutinised
    There are other Councils in NSW suffering the impost of successful State marketing (and indeed one cannot overlook the success of local bodies promoting Byron) who would also be waiting on changes to the Local Government Act to give legislative power to broaden the rate (tax) base.

  2. I am in complete agreement with Paul Spooner on this issue. Until the alternatives listed are acted upon and those on low income/pensions are compensated in some meaningful way, this regressive and permanent rate rise is likely to fracture our small community – unnoticed by some and the last straw for others struggling to survive in their homes. A fairer, more creative way to collect revenue and secure infrastructure programs can and should be found.

  3. When will Council publish the results of their Sham Community Survey?
    Why did the Council leave off the NO RATE RISE option in their prepaid option cards to ratepayers?
    Why did the Manager tell us that IPART and the Minister had approved the rate rise before the Sham Community Survey was undertaken?
    Why did NSW Treasury tell us that “Council has significant cash and investment reserves. The expenditure of part of these reserves would better enable asset renewal and maintenance”.?
    What are the current cash and investment reserves?”
    What amount is the Council spending on consultants to help senior manager do their jobs?
    Have any Councillors seen responses to these questions?

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