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?’
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.
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.
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