By Hans Lovejoy
Byron Shire Council yesterday voted for a 7.5 per cent rates hike over four years, yet the actual increase across residential, commercial and farmland is yet to be thrashed out.
This is a 33.5 per cent hike over the four years for the cumulatively compounded Special Rate Variation (SRV).
But the decision needs approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which had already pegged a 1.5 per cent rise across the state (2017-18).
A council spokesperson told Echonetdaily that IPART requires council to work on the assumption of a 2.5 per cent rise, despite the 1.5 per cent now being confirmed as the actual figure for the 2017-18 year.
Staff also confirmed that the 1.5 per cent IPART rate peg will be included within the 7.5 per cent.
Left leaning independent Cr Basil Cameron put the motion forward, which also seeks to pursue other avenues for revenue from tourism and government grants as well as letters to state MPs asking for assistance with the shire’s large visitor numbers.
A new committee is also planned, called the Byron Shire Revenue Exploration Working Party (BSREWP).
It’s worth noting that the 7.5 per cent figure is not set across the board – i.e. in coming weeks and months.
Echonetdaily understands that staff and councillors will thrash out a proposal which could see business pay comparatively more than residents and farmers.
During morning access, residents spoke against the rise and implored councillors to look at other measures to find the funds necessary to address the infrastructure backlog.
A campaign led by general manager Ken Gainger claimed the shire’s infrastructure – mainly roads – are in steep decline.
Three options were put before the community: the first was to do nothing and apply the estimated 1.5 per cent rate peg (classed as ‘deteriorate’).
The second was to implement a special rate variation of 7.5 per cent, each year, for four years (classed as ‘maintain’) and the third option was to apply a special rate variation of 12.5 per cent each year for four years (classed as ‘improve’).
To reinforce the point, a special video/slide show was screened in the chambers during morning access on Thursday depicting bridges, culverts, bus sheds and buildings all in a state of disrepair.
Who voted for and against
Councillors in favour of Cr Cameron’s motion to proceed with a 7.5 per cent rate rise were mayor Simon Richardson, Crs Jeannette Martin, Michael Lyon and Sarah Ndiaye (all Greens). Others in support were left-leaning independents Basil Cameron, Cate Coorey and Nationals Party-aligned Alan Hunter.
Country Labor’s Paul Spooner and Jan Hackett voted against.
An alternative motion by Country Labor was to defer the vote, but was rejected by fellow councillors.
A press release by Country Labor later in the day claimed the result would mean Byron Shire will have the highest residential rates on the north coast.
Cr Spooner said in the press release, ‘The community response to council’s consultation has been strongly against a rate rise. People have asked me extensively why Byron Council hasn’t done more to look at raising more revenue from tourists rather than residents.’
Acting secretary of Byron Labor, Asren Pugh, said, ‘This decision will hit residents with an average additional yearly bill of nearly $400, and many will be slugged a lot more.’
Note: The intro for the initial story suggested the rate rise would slug ‘ratepayers with an annual increase of around $400 a year.’
Council staff dispute that amount; and was a figure that Byron Labor suggested.
Council’s spokesperson said, ‘The increase over a four year period on an average rate of $1,139 is a total $382. That is, it would go from the current $1,139 to $1,521 in 2020/21. It is a total increase over the four year period, not $400 per yearas per your lead line.’